The U.S. has surpassed 500,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, even as case numbers trend downward and vaccination efforts proceed. 

The U.S. reached the half-million death milestone on Monday, the highest of any country, a little more than a year after the first American is believed to have died from the virus in Santa Clara County, Calif. 

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The true toll of the coronavirus pandemic, however, is likely far higher, as federal figures maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show excess mortality well above what might be otherwise assumed for a typical year. 

“It's something that is stunning when you look at the numbers, almost unbelievable, but it's true," Fauci said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" the day before the U.S. officially crossed the 500,000 threshold. "This is a devastating pandemic, and it's historic. People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now.”

The burden caused by the coronavirus has proven deadlier than what even some of the most pessimistic estimates suggested. COVID-19 has killed nearly 50 percent more people in the United States than the number of people who died from influenza over the entirety of the past decade — a number roughly equal to the population of Atlanta or Kansas City, Mo.

The news comes as other trends in the U.S. are more hopeful, including cases dropping over 40 percent in the past two weeks and more than 70 percent since January, according to The New York Times. Daily positive tests are at their lowest rate since late October. Death rates are also beginning to slow. Read more at The Hill