A Humble Anniversary

Thursday was the “official” one year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it one. At the time of the declaration there were 118,000 known cases world-wide and 4,291 deaths. On that day, the NBA suspended its season, the NCAA said that there would be no fans for March Madness (the Division I championship — the next day the tournament was cancelled), and Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced that they tested positive for the Coronavirus. On that day the now ex-president addressed the nation on developments, tried to reassure the nation (“the risk is very, very low”), and banned travel from the European Union (EU) (except the United Kingdom) for 30 days, causing mass confusion due to a lack of warning or coordination with our European allies. Unfortunately, the virus was already here and spreading quickly.

On that day there were just over 1,000 known cases in the U.S. and 31 dead, mostly in Washington state. Dr. Anthony Fauci testified to Congress that day and warned that the outbreak was spreading and that “it’s going to get worse.” We were also in the midst of a stock market collapse. On 11 March alone the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped over 1,200 points, continuing a downward trend and closing about 20% lower than its peak the month before. The nation was in the midst of a crisis that few had experienced in our lifetimes. The economy tanked almost overnight following a spate of shutdowns and lock downs and no one was sure as to what precautions each of us should take to prevent the spread of the disease.

One year later, there are roughly 118 million known cases around the world and 2.6 million deaths. Unfortunately, the U.S. is number one in total known cases and deaths — as of today, we have experienced approximately 29,287,876 cases and 530,977 deaths. We lead the world in both categories. And yet, many of our fellow citizens do not take the pandemic seriously, or worse yet, some still think that it is a hoax. Like so many issues over the last four years, we Americans have managed to politicize a deadly disease that took far too many of us over the course of one year.

Just think what the reaction would be a year ago if any scientist or doctor or other health expert predicted that one year after declaring the pandemic, the U.S. would have over 530,000 dead Americans. Outrage! Scare tactics! Using the numbers to gain a political advantage! No one would have believed it. At the time, our worst case predictions were in the 100,000 to 200,000 range. Worst case. We would be in the lower end of the scale if precautions were taken, in the upper end if they were not. It was hard to imagine. Some Americans argue that “they would have died anyway” and that the figures are inflated. Well, in one respect, the critics are correct — every living thing dies eventually. But those 530,977 died before their time and many of them died alone without comfort or love from families or friends. But for arguments sake, let’s say that the numbers are twice as high as “the real” pandemic death toll. That is still over 265,000 dead Americans. How is that really any better? It still means that we did twice as bad as the predictions from one year ago. It also ignores the long-term impact on the health of people that were sick, but survived. Some have been hospitalized for months. We just do not know what the second order impact of the disease might be over time.

Here is what bothers me the most. These days people talk about “over 500,000 deaths” to date. That means that 30,977 dead Americans are a rounding error. We should be appalled if that was the total number of human beings lost to the disease. Now it’s just a rounding error. That is where we are today. Perhaps the full measure of the huge number is difficult to comprehend. Think of it in individual terms. All of those families, friends and acquaintances that were impacted by that number of dead Americans. It is staggering.

No one is responsible for the pandemic coming to America. Plenty, however, are responsible for lying to us, misleading us, politicizing the disease, actively undermining common sense measures to stop the spread, and generally providing poor leadership in refusing to take the easiest steps to slow down the spread significantly. This was the greatest health disaster in our country in at least 100 years. We should have been better, smarter, united and focused in combatting this scourge. Didn’t happen. There were no “miracles.” No bleach injected into bodies. Hydroxychloroquine did not make it “just go away.”

Instead, people lost their lives and livelihoods. Went hungry. Fell behind in their educations. Created massive food lines that differ only from those of the Great Depression by the fact that you can drive through instead of line up on the sidewalk. Many of us have seemingly lost a year of our lives without the benefit of friends or family to carry out even the most basic of our social rituals. And it didn’t have to be this way.

Thankfully, if we can stay the course and stay smart in taking precautions, we are nearly through the worst of it. Only a few more months to go as more and more people are able to receive the vaccinations that appear to be very effective. Compare the presidential speeches of 11 March 2020 and 11 March 2021. Leadership is back. More importantly, technically and scientifically competent people are back in charge within the Administration, working day and night to fight to get us out of this mess created by a silent killer.

Stay safe. We are almost there. No one wants to be the last war casualty before the Armistice goes into force.

It was a long tough year. A lot has changed, a lot has not. I trust that a year from now we will be able to memorialize those that we lost, without having lost a lot more.



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