The death toll in the United States from COVID-19 exceeds 500,000

Deaths from COVID-19 in the United States surpassed 500,000 on Monday, the last bleak way station in a previously unexplored landscape of losses.

The figure is difficult to understand. It’s as if all the inhabitants of an American city the size of Atlanta or Sacramento have vanished. The figure is greater than the combined deaths on the US battlefield in the two world wars and in Vietnam. Last month, based on average 24-hour deaths, it was as if the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, happened every day.

The deaths recorded in the United States from COVID-19 represent a fifth of the nearly 2.5 million known fatalities in the world, double the number in Brazil, the next most affected country. In California alone there were almost 50,000 deaths, about 10% of the country’s total. Nearly 20,000 of them occurred in Los Angeles County, where about one in 500 people have died.

Poets and philosophers – and social science researchers – know that hearing about death on such a massive scale often produces a numbing sensation that these huge numbers can become abstractions. For the United States as a whole, this may be so; for those affected by individual pain, it is just the opposite.

People who have lost loved ones, or suffered lasting physical damage from an episode of COVID-19, sometimes speak of feeling deeply alienated from their compatriots wondering when they will be able to return to bars and restaurants. baseball games.

President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the threshold of half a million deaths is like nothing “that we’ve lived through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 flu pandemic.” So, the Deaths in the US were a cataclysm of 675,000, though they were dwarfed by a world number of about 50 million.

To commemorate the sad milestone of half a million, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris observed a moment of silence and held a candle-lighting ceremony at sunset Monday.

The first known deaths in the United States from the coronavirus occurred in February 2020, although infectious disease specialists believe that the virus was already circulating in the country before that date. In the year since, the outbreak has left few American lives unscathed.

All forms of organization in society – school and work, economy and government, friendship and family life, love and romance – have changed, in some cases irreversibly. Contagion has altered end-of-life farewells and mourning rituals, with heartbreaking deathbed scenes portrayed by FaceTime and memorials staged in Zoom. Other rites of passage wobble and wobble: postponed weddings, unannounced graduations.

This is not the darkest hour of the pandemic; it may already have passed. New cases in the US have been down for five weeks; The deployment of the vaccine, despite delays and shortages, tends to be successful, although it is also a race against the deadly new variants that are circulating in the United States and around the world.

In the last year, the pandemic has exposed shocking social disparities in the US that were present from the beginning, but which the crisis has exposed. Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to suffer devastating medical outcomes. Economic inequalities abound as the wealthiest Americans who work at home have weathered the outbreak with relative ease, while unemployment has soared to levels not seen in decades, leaving millions of American families unable to afford necessities like housing. and the food.

Especially during last year’s election cycle, the coronavirus became a fierce political issue, turning basic public health measures and notions of self-interest versus the common good into a battlefield. Encouraged by former President Trump, many Republican elected officials and their supporters refused to wear masks or uphold social distancing standards despite broad warnings from public health authorities, thus putting the most vulnerable populations in greater danger.

At the same time, there was a grim common element to the threat: COVID-19 has ravaged both crowded urban neighborhoods and lonely prairie towns, inexorably spreading from coast to coast. The pandemic has sparked scenes most Americans never thought they would witness in their own country, with overflowing hospital wards and mobile morgues.

For healthcare workers, the disease has been a ruthless, months-long attack that threatened their physical and mental health as they struggled to care for others. Front-line jobs like delivering mail and bagging groceries remain especially dangerous, even though these essential workers are given priority to receive vaccines.

As the disease embarked on its relentless march, the elderly were hit the hardest, with those over 65 accounting for about four out of every five deaths in the United States and many nursing homes and assisted living facilities were devastated. But the contagion made its way across all age categories, dragging out some of the young and healthy, affecting children with a still little-known inflammatory syndrome. Medical experts say the pandemic has indirectly claimed many thousands of lives, with undiagnosed ailments and delayed treatments.

Despite Trump’s energetic efforts to downplay the expected death toll, the pandemic was always a chronicle of foretold death. A year ago, in a February 2020 webinar hosted by the American Hospital Association, Dr. James Lawler, an epidemiologist who served in the Bush and Obama administrations, predicted an estimate of 480,000 deaths, a figure crossed out by some. at that time of alarmist.

The projections of infectious disease specialists were always, by definition, imperfect, because they depended on the behavior of the population and on political decisions. But as the months passed, the terrifying progression of the pandemic spoke for itself.

Since the start of the outbreak, it took four months to reach the 100,000 death mark in May 2020. But on January 19, when the number of victims reached 400,000, it only took another five weeks for that number to grow to the 500,000.

A massive, world-altering contagion in modern times has long been a staple of Hollywood entertainment, but to many, the specter of a pathogen that affected nearly everyone living seemed somehow fanciful, relegated to the past. distant sepia tone, before medical advances such as mechanical ventilation and sophisticated vaccines.

What everyone wants to know now, of course, is when it will end.

For now, patience and vigilance should remain the keywords.

At 52, Navajo Nation police officer Carolyn Tallsalt has been on the job for two decades, but said this past year had been her hardest. The Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, has recorded nearly 30,000 coronavirus cases, with more than 1,100 deaths.

Tallsalt, who patrols in Tuba, Arizona, 250 miles north of Phoenix, said she was heartbroken when she saw people gathering inside homes and breaking the night curfew because she believed the threat had largely passed. .

“They think, ‘Oh, things are better, there’s a vaccine,'” he said. “You are wrong”.

Tallsalt hopes the terrible score of 500,000 deaths will be a reminder for all Americans to safeguard their health to the best of their ability.

“Hopefully there are not another 100,000 deaths,” he said. “I don’t want to see 600,000.”

Times staff writer Kurtis Lee in Phoenix contributed to this report.

To read this note in English Click here