Another Grim Milestone: Half a Million Souls Lost to the Pandemic in the U.S.A.
We could not have stopped the virus from reaching our shores; we could have prevented many from dying
On Monday, February 22, the U.S. reached a grim milestone. The coronavirus-related deaths surpassed 500,000 in a pandemic that has lasted almost a year. It is like losing the whole population of the Atlanta metropolitan area. The same evening, President Biden participated in a moment of silence, standing by 500 lighted candles outside the White House portico, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. A month ago, on the eve of their inauguration, the president-elect and the vice president-elect stood with their spouses at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall lit with 400 candles to commemorate the 400,000 lives lost by then. It was the former President’s last full day in office deciding which of his cronies should receive his pardon. He never paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives to Covid-19 under his watch. Since that day in January, just a month ago, another 100,000 Americans have died. Losing half a million lives to this disease was unimaginable when the first deaths due to the pandemic in the U.S. was last February.
A few minutes earlier to the event, President Biden spoke from the White House’s Cross Hall. “The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, immigrated to America. But just like that, so many of them took their final breath alone in America. ” He continued…
I know that when you stare at that empty chair around the kitchen table, it brings it all back no matter how long ago it happened as if it just happened that moment. We will get through this, I promise you.
The magnitude of the tragedy
The United States accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s known deaths from the coronavirus but makes up just 4.25% of the global population. More Americans have died from Covid-19 than on the battlefields of World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.
“The magnitude of it is just horrifying,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an environmental health sciences professor at Columbia University. According to Shaman, the scale of loss was not inevitable, but it resulted from the failure to control the virus’s spread in the United States.
In the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, two White House Coronavirus Taskforce members, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx projected that even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans. Eleven months later, the virus has killed more than twice that number.
Coronavirus-related deaths also have disproportionately affected Americans along racial lines. According to the CDC, Black Americans' death rate with Covid-19 compared to white Americans is 1.9 times higher. The death rate for Hispanics is 2.3 times higher, and for Native Americans, 2.4 times higher.
What led to such a catastrophe
The politicization of public health messaging, on topics such as masking and the severity of the disease compared with flu, confused and endangered the public. In remarks made to Reuters on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that “intense political divisiveness contributed to the nation’s poor handling of the pandemic.”
New coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining
The New York Times reported on its pages about this grim milestone reached on Monday. New virus cases and deaths have slowed dramatically. Still, 60,000 new cases daily are being reported. Vaccine distribution has gradually picked up the pace. But uncertainty remains about emerging variants of the virus, some more contagious and possibly more lethal. It may be months before the pandemic is contained. The most widespread mutation of the virus is the one identified in the U.K. Even there, as the chart indicates, new infections are on the decline. The country’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told Sky News that people had to be patient and keep obeying restrictions. The indicators were heading in the right direction, especially concerning the virus’s more virulent strains first identified in South Africa and Brazil. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the best way to get there is to keep abiding by the rules,” he said.
Scientists say the U.S. death toll trajectory will depend on the speed of vaccinations, the effects of the variants, and how closely people stick to guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing.
Trump’s second-biggest lie
Trump’s big lie was that the Democrats stole the November 2020 election, and he won the election. CNN’s Jonathan Reiner has a story titled Donald Trump’s other, tragic big lie published on February 22. This other lie was about the coronavirus pandemic when Trump systematically downplayed the severity of Covid-19 and the utility of face masks.
On January 22, 2020, the day the U.S. reported its first case of Covid-19, President Trump said he wasn’t worried about the outbreak becoming a pandemic. “We have it totally under control,” he said.
On January 28, the National Security Adviser, Robert O’Brien, accompanied by his deputy Matthew Pottinger went to the White House (Bob Woodward in his book, Rage). They unambiguously told Trump: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” On February 7, 2020, Trump told Woodward the coronavirus was highly lethal, noting that it was “more deadly” than — “even your severe cases of flu.” Yet, Trump continued to peddle the lie in public.
The CDC was hesitant to recommend masks
Despite the knowledge that the virus was being spread via respiratory droplets and aerosols, the CDC was slow to recommend masks for the public. However, early in April, the CDC changed its position and advised all Americans to wear face-coverings in public.
At a Coronavirus Task Force briefing the same day, the president immediately threw cold water on the recommendation, declaring: “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that’s OK.” What he meant was — masks were optional, and his ardent supporters never wore them. Several Republican governors refused to follow the CDC guidelines on masking. There are fifteen states, all of them with Republican governors and legislators, that do not have a statewide mask mandate.
The single most effective means to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is to use appropriate face coverings. Recent recommendations from public health experts encourage everyone to double up on face masks when in public. Other not-so-obvious advantages to mask-wearing are coming to light. There is hardly any flu this season. So far, just 155 people confirmed to have influenza have ended up in a hospital. At this point last year, 78 children had died of the flu. This year, just one pediatric flu death has been reported. All the more reason to wear a mask even if the Coronavirus is a thing of the past.
Preventable death toll
Half a million Americans should not have died of Covid-19 in one of the world’s richest and most sophisticated countries. A new report from The Lancet Commission titled, Public Policy and Health in the Trump Era, found that 40% of Covid-19 deaths in the United States could have been prevented. That means 200,000 of the deaths were preventable. Each life lost was a parent, a spouse, an uncle, an aunt, a sibling, or a child.