US COVID-19 Death Toll on Track to Surpass WWII Military Casualties

National Guardsmen help to process the COVID-19 deaths in California.
This photo provided by the LA County Dept. of Medical Examiner-Coroner shows Elizabeth "Liz" Napoles, right, works alongside with National Guardsmen who are helping to process the COVID-19 deaths to be placed into temporary storage at LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Office on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2020 in Los Angeles. More than 500 people are dying each day in California because of the coronavirus. The death toll has prompted state officials to send more refrigerated trailers to local governments to act as makeshift morgues. State officials said Friday they have helped distribute 98 refrigerated trailers to help county coroners store dead bodies. (LA County Dept. of Medical Examiner-Coroner via AP)

As the anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. approaches, the nation is on track to surpass the total U.S. military death toll in the four years of World War II, a stark indicator of the pandemic's cost.

"This week the U.S. will reach two terrible milestones," Dr. Peter Hotez, professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said on Twitter Sunday.

The nation is on track this week to hit 25 million coronavirus cases reported and more than 400,000 deaths, according to current estimates. The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have put the total number of combat and non-combat deaths in WWII at 405,399.

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The number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. passed 397,000 Sunday, with daily deaths averaging more than 3,000 and sometimes reaching 4,000 in the latest surge of cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The current rate of coronavirus deaths means that the total could surpass the WWII death toll by the time President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday.

Biden has repeatedly expressed alarm over the surge in cases and has set the goal for his administration of achieving 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has agreed to become Biden's chief medical advisor, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that "the issue of getting 100 million doses in the first 100 days is absolutely a doable thing."

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said that he had spoken as recently as Sunday morning with Army Gen. Gus Perna, former head of U.S. Army Materiel Command and now chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, about speeding up the delivery of vaccine doses.

In a statement Saturday, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said that "816,900 additional vaccines were distributed to the American people on Friday, bringing the total number of vaccine doses distributed to 30,303,375."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

Related: The Military’s Coronavirus Cases: The Latest Rundown

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