The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, all but matching the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, are about equal to the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and greater than that of Miami; Raleigh, North Carolina; or Omaha, Nebraska.

And despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater, in part because of the many cases that were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day. But experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself.

Some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people are inclined to stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. happened in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

By the numbers

As the total death toll — driven by a severe double-peak surge in December and January that was worse than the initial outbreak in the spring — crossed the half-million threshold, the most recent figures showed improvement.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 55,528 new cases, the lowest single-day figure since Oct. 18 (47,608).

Monday's death toll was 1,303, which brought the seven-day average to 1,921.

The seven-day new case average was 64,216, and the rate per 100,000 people dropped to 135, the lowest since Oct. 23 (134). The rate per 100,000 peaked at 457 on Dec. 17 during the post-Thanksgiving surge and at 526 during the post-Christmas surge.

In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Health reported 1,339 new cases Monday, the lowest figure since Oct. 18.

Mercer County had two new cases, the lowest since Oct. 6, and no new fatalities for the 11th consecutive day.

Hospital readiness

COVID-19 hospitalizations increased slightly Monday, from 1,959 to 1,963, but intensive care unit admissions and ventilator use both continued to decline, respectively to 418 and 240.

Rolling daily averages, taken over the previous two weeks, fell as well. The average for hospitalizations was 2,347, the lowest since Nov. 20.

Ventilator use has been 270.1 per day, the best figure since Nov. 23.

Intensive care bed availability rose to 773.7.

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