MISSION, Kan. (AP/CBS13) — The U.S. on Tuesday hit another depressing pandemic milestone — 800,000 deaths. It’s a sad coda to a year that held so much promise with the arrival of vaccines but is ending in heartbreak for the many grieving families trying to navigate the holiday season.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 50,233,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country over the course of the pandemic.

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California accounts for more than 5,177,000 cases and more than 75,000 deaths.

The year began with the COVID-19 death toll at about 350,000 in the U.S., at a time when the country was in the throes of a winter surge so bad that patients were lined up in emergency room hallways waiting for beds.

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But vaccines were just getting rolled out, and sports stadiums and fairgrounds were quickly transformed into mass vaccination sites. Case numbers began falling. By spring, nearly all schools had reopened and communities were shedding mask orders. TV newscasters began talking cheerfully about a post-pandemic world. President Joe Biden proclaimed the Fourth of July holiday as a celebration of the nation’s freedom from the virus.

It didn’t last long. The delta variant struck just as vaccination rates were stalling amid a wave of misinformation, devastating poorly immunized portions of the Midwest and South. Hospitals brought back mobile morgues and opened up their pocketbooks in a desperate bid to attract enough nurses to care for the sick.

“People have no idea,” said Debbie Eaves, a lab worker, who grew weary of the wave of death as she collected swabs from patients at Oakdale Community Hospital in Louisiana amid the surge. “Oh, no. They have no idea what it is to look and see, to see it.”

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Now, as the year ends, the delta variant is fueling another wave of hospitalizations, court battles are brewing over vaccine mandates and fresh questions are swirling about the new omicron variant.