As I was putting the finishing touches on the letter selection for Tuesday’s page Monday morning, the “ding” from my iPad alerted me to a story from The Wall Street Journal, with the note: “The U.S. death toll from covid has crossed a once-unthinkable threshold: 1 million lives lost.”
From the story: “Epidemiologists say the true death toll from Covid-19 is likely even higher, reflecting missed diagnoses, especially early in the pandemic when the disease was new and tests were scarce. The CDC says excess deaths associated with the pandemic, or deaths above averages from recent years, which also reflect other issues during the pandemic including a surge in drug overdoses, have reached about 1.12 million.”
Senior citizens are still the largest group hit by deaths, The Journal reported, but they’re also more likely to have pre-existing conditions and live and/or socialize in community settings where contagion is spread easily. But nursing homes, where many deaths occurred, saw death rates plunge as more residents were vaccinated, showing the efficacy of the vaccines (though the omicron surge wiped some of that out since it was resistant to the vaccines).
Yet again, it seems we’re never getting past this.
So many of us have lost loved ones to this virus and, unfortunately, to the politicization of it, which made federal agencies act not as their missions would have them, but as political entities, offering conflicting advice that would serve to undermine public trust in them. When what we were fighting was a virus that didn’t care about your beliefs, it was exactly the wrong tack, and it could take years to win back needed credibility, especially with so much conspiratorial cheerleading from certain quarters.
Add that politicization to the innate stubbornness of people like my youngest brother and people who just don’t want to deal with reality, plus those who only care about their freedom to not have to face consequences for their actions, and you get what we now have. More than 1 million lives lost, just in the United States, about one-sixth of all covid deaths worldwide (for perspective, the U.S. has just over 4 percent of the global population).
What could we have done differently? A lot.
We could have taken seriously advice from epidemiologists and virologists who spent their lives researching viruses and how to fight them. Instead, many of us listened to political appointees and the president at the time who spent the bulk of his time telling people it was nothing to worry about and would go away soon, all the while undermining what experts said about prevention.
We could have understood that dealing with a novel virus means that advice would change as more information came in about how it spread, who was most at risk, and how we could lessen the odds of getting sick and passing on the virus. While coronaviruses have been researched before, this one had important differences that meant scientists were basically starting from scratch. It was quick work in getting the virus’ genetic profile out and the previously tested mRNA method rather than using traditional vaccine development that got us a vaccine as quickly as we did.
We could have listened to actual experts instead of social media and cable “news” talkers who were/are more interested in conspiracy theories and advancing their idea of freedom than truth. We must always remember that the practice of our rights and freedoms come with responsibilities, and that we must face the consequences of our actions. If you end up killing someone because you were carrying the virus and transmitted it to others because you refused to follow public health guidelines or be vaccinated (because FREEDOM!!!!), you have to live with that knowledge.
There are many more things we could have done, but it seems a loud, belligerent group grabbed tightly to the fears of people who don’t partake of a diverse media diet and somehow brought even the apolitical like my brother into the fold, convincing them that their freedom was at risk if they gave in to “the man” (whoa, getting 1970s hippie vibes here) by doing things like wearing masks indoors in crowded situations and at medical facilities or getting vaccinated once viable vaccines were developed. They opted instead to rely on natural “immunity” (which really only develops after you’ve had the disease, and you had to hope you’d survive in order to get those antibodies and that you wouldn’t have lifelong after-effects from the illness; long covid is no joke), or supposed cures and preventatives that just made matters worse (people, lay off the aquarium cleaners and livestock dewormers).
Corey was a believer in natural immunity, and swore that because he’d been around so many unmasked, unvaccinated people and hadn’t gotten sick, he was obviously immune. Then he caught covid, and went downhill pretty quickly. There were hopes at first for recovery, as he was to go to rehab for his lungs, but then he had a stroke (a fairly uncommon risk with covid, but covid patients have been shown in some studies to be prone to clotting). His stroke was far more severe than mine was, and sealed his fate.
Corey and I had argued about vaccinations, and I hate that it came between us. I wish I could have convinced him of the need, especially for people dealing with the public in their jobs as he did, but I couldn’t, and I still feel guilty about that. But more than that, I’m overwhelmed with the desire just to have him back again, as that funny, crazy, sweet redhead was in many ways the heart of our family.
More’s the pity that his granddaughter Leia, who just turned 1, won’t have him to boss around. She would have loved him as much as the rest of us do.
Oh, the stories he could tell.
We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. Maybe it was a spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend or someone else we’ve loved, or a friendship that went back decades, or a business that contained our whole hearts. We all have to figure out how to go on. That may be by keeping a loved one’s memory alive, realizing that some friendships weren’t meant to last (especially when it comes to maintaining your mental health), or finding a new passion and vocation.
I and many others will continue to follow guidelines from infectious-disease experts; we still wear masks in public if we’re among a crowd, keep our distance from people, and keep up with vaccinations.
“Aha! Virtue signaling!” I hear some of you say (keep it down, please; some of us are trying to concentrate). Nope, it’s simply common sense and courtesy. We don’t want to get sick, but if we’re carrying a virus (any virus) unknowingly, we don’t want to get you sick either. Because, you know, we’re nice people.
Plus, we know that our freedom ends where yours begins, and vice versa. Funny how that works.
Pretty sure the more than 1 million in the U.S. who lost their lives would love their freedom back.