Our country passed an unfathomable milestone as we recorded over 800,000 deaths in the United States from Covid-19. The most in the world. Many experts believe that the real number is much higher. Ironically, we are passing this horrendous marker just about exactly one year after the first American got the first dose of a vaccine that can prevent, or at least significantly reduce the impact of, the disease.
On 2 April 2020 I wrote about the pandemic in depth for the first time. At that point, the President’s Covid Task Force under the direction of Dr. Deborah Birx was projecting 240,000 deaths (total!) from Covid, if we did everything perfectly. Her projection was that if we did not, then we could lose over 1.2 million Americans. The shrieks and cries and accusations of scare tactics, hoaxes, and socialism (yes, socialism) surrounding these projections and the steps needed to protect ourselves were unleashed far and wide. It was thought to be a gross exaggeration meant to hoodwink us all into becoming “sheep.”
And yet, here we are. The combination of the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus could easily leave between 837,000 and 845,000 dead by 8 January 2022 according to the CDC ensemble forecast (a combination of multiple models). Many fear that by spring, we will have lost over a million Americans.
For comparison, our last big pandemic, the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, caused about 675,000 deaths in the U.S. In those days, there was no vaccine, and scientific understanding of the disease was woefully inadequate compared to today.
The good news is that we can protect ourselves. As everyone should know, a series of three vaccines significantly reduces the chances of serious illness. Wearing masks aids in stopping the spread of the disease. And on, and on. We know the routine, like it or not. We thought we had it beat, but we don’t and I am not sure that any responsible scientist or physician is willing to say when we return to pre-Covid days. Perhaps never.
To me, one of the two most inexplicable developments of the last two years is the politicization of efforts to control the spread of Covid and to protect individuals. Mind numbingly stupid. I am gobsmacked whenever I think about how many lives are lost through a stubborn refusal to comply with measures that in years past would be welcomed rather than vilified. Studies indicate that without the vaccines, an additional 1.1 million Americans would have died by the end of November 2021 and there would have been 10.3 million additional hospitalizations. As it is, about 300,000 Americans died from the pandemic before vaccines were available. That means that about 500,000 American deaths from Covid were largely preventable. Vaccines were made available to all adults on 19 April 2020 and yet the death toll continues to rise. An unvaccinated person is six times more likely to test positive than a vaccinated person, nine times more likely to be hospitalized, and fourteen times more likely to die.
The U.S. has over a sixty percent vaccination rate. But that still leaves over 100 million people unvaccinated. I do not get it.
Politicians and media pundits that push people to protect their “freedom” and fight against masks, vaccines, and common sense steps to protect themselves have blood on their hands. Even as they get themselves vaccinated. Shameful. Unfortunately, in one sector of today’s politics, shame no longer exists.
I will never understand it.
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.