The U.S. passed 600,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, a painful reminder that illness and grief still persist, as the country begins to return to a level of normalcy.
JOE BIDEN: "My heart goes out to all those who lost a loved one.”
U.S. President Joe Biden, in Brussels for a NATO meeting, reflected on the somber milestone.
JOE BIDEN: “I know that black hole that seems to consume you that fills up your chest when you lose someone close to you that you adored. That's why I continue to say to America, if you've not been vaccinated, get vaccinated."
The rate of severe illness and death has dropped dramatically in the U.S. as more Americans have become vaccinated.But for many, life won’t be normal after losing loved ones to the disease.
JONI ZAVITSANOS: “This is Lupita, look how beautiful she is...”
Houston-based artist Joni Zavitsanos created a mural with about 575 images of locals who died from the coronavirus.
JONI ZAVITSANOS: "Everyday we're watching the news, and hearing about people dying and all these weird statistics. And as I'm working in the studio, I begin thinking, like, 'Who are these people? Who are they talking about?' This seems so cold and impersonal... I know we can't bring them back. But that they live among us and that they are with us, I want people to believe and to feel (that)..."
The images are printed onto eight-by-eight inch pieces of wood and Zavitsanos paints a halo using gold leaf around each person, an homage to the Byzantine art of the Greek Orthodox church that she attends.
Vinceanne Mandola still grieves for her father Vincent who died of the virus at the age of 77.
VINCEANNE MANDOLA: "It's just very sad... to know that I'm coming on a year, but I do feel that he made such a strong impact on all of our lives, that he's still with us."
The U.S. seven-day COVID-19 death average has fallen by almost 90% from its peak in January.
According to the CDC, the country has so far vaccinated 166 million adults with at least one dose, although the rate of shots administered has dropped significantly from its peak in mid-April.