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A tragic new threshold: Pandemic claims 800,000 lives in U.S.

There was a time at which anyone predicting 800,000 U.S. Covid-19 fatalities would've seemed like a sky-is-falling hysteric. And yet, here we are.

In the spring of 2020, Donald Trump had a dreadful habit of guessing how many Covid-19 fatalities the United States would see. Among the many problems was the then-president's consistency in guessing a low number, which the country invariably reached soon after.

As regular readers may recall, it was on April 20 when the Republican first said he believed the overall American death toll from the pandemic would be between 50,000 and 60,000 people. When we cleared that total, Trump moved the goalposts, saying the total would "probably" be between 60,000 and 70,000 people. As the tallies climbed, so did the presidential guesses: The total could reach 90,000, he said. Or 100,000. Or 110,000. Or possibly 200,000.

At the time, anyone predicting 800,000 fatalities would've seemed like a sky-is-falling hysteric. And yet, as NBC News reported earlier today, here we are.

The United States passed another grim Covid-19 milestone Monday, as more than 800,000 Americans have now died from the virus that's plagued the country for nearly two years. There have been at least 800,156 confirmed deaths traced to the coronavirus, according to a rolling tally by NBC News.

It took the United States 119 days to go from 600,000 deaths to 700,000 deaths. It took us 74 days to go from 700,000 to 800,000.

I remember in May 2020, as we approached the 100,000 threshold, The New York Times published the names of those who'd passed on its front page, under a headline that lamented our collective "incalculable loss." About a year later, as the pandemic claimed the lives of 600,000 people in the United States, Axios noted that the Covid-19 death toll was higher "than the number of American soldiers killed in combat during the Vietnam War, World War I and World War II combined."

That was 200,000 U.S. fatalities ago.

If recent history is any guide, President Joe Biden's Republican critics and conservative media outlets will use today's news as an opportunity to complain about the White House's Covid track record.

But they shouldn't. As we discussed last week, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have twice in recent weeks taken aim at a key element of the administration's vaccine policy — not because they see it as ineffective, but because they believe it infringes on the party's vision of private sector "freedom."

The votes were part of an ongoing, multifaceted strategy that includes filing lawsuits to block implementation of Biden's policies, and in some red states, effectively paying people not to get vaccinated. At the same time, many Republicans are undermining public confidence in vaccines and mask protections, while promoting ineffective treatments and dangerous ideas about "natural immunity."

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson noted in his latest column that many Republican officials are "actively discouraging citizens from taking routine medical precautions for their own welfare."

It's an uncomfortable truth to consider as we wonder how long it might take for the United States to reach our 900,000th Covid-19 fatality.