US marks 1 million COVID deaths; DeWine orders flags at half-staff

Flags fly at half staff in front of the Ohio Statehouse.

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Flags fly at half staff in front of the Ohio Statehouse.

President Joe Biden appealed to world leaders on Thursday for a renewed international commitment to attacking COVID-19 as he led the U.S. in marking the approaching “tragic milestone” of 1 million American deaths from the virus.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday ordered that flags be flown at half staff until sunset Monday on all public buildings and grounds throughout Ohio, in accordance with Biden’s orders and in remembrance of those who have died, according to a release from the governor’s office.

“This pandemic isn’t over,” Biden told the second global pandemic summit. “Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million COVID deaths — 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table.”

The coronavirus has killed more than 999,000 people in the U.S. and at least 6.2 million people globally since it emerged in late 2019, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Biden issued a proclamation Thursday directing that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff through sunset on Monday to honor those who lost their lives to the virus.

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The president called on Congress to provide more funding for testing, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been unwilling to deliver so far.

Biden addressed the opening of the virtual summit Thursday morning with prerecorded remarks and made the case that tackling COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The U.S. is co-hosting the summit along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.

The lack of funding — Biden has requested another $22.5 billion of what he calls critically needed money — is a reflection of faltering resolve at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.

Eight months after he used the first such summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world, the urgency of the U.S. and other nations to respond has waned.

Momentum on vaccinations and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants rise and billions of people across the globe remain unprotected.

The U.S. has shipped nearly 540 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department — by far more than any other donor nation.

Congress has balked at the price tag for COVID-19 relief and has thus far refused to take up the package because of political opposition to the impending end of pandemic-era migration restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border. Even after a consensus for virus funding briefly emerged in March, lawmakers decided to strip out the global aid funding and solely focus the assistance on shoring up U.S. supplies of vaccine booster shots and therapeutics.

Biden has warned that without Congress acting, the U.S. could lose out on access to the next generation of vaccines and treatments, and that the nation won’t have enough supply of booster doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid for later this year. He’s also sounding the alarm that more variants will spring up if the U.S. and the world don’t do more to contain the virus globally.

The emergence of variants like delta and omicron has led many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which seem to provide more protection and are in greater demand globally than traditionally made vaccines like those from China and Russia.

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