The nation passed a grim milestone Monday, counted as the approximate time the U.S. crossed the line of 500,000 lives lost to COVID-19.
"Numbers can be a bit sterile," Bob Anderson, chief mortality statistician for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week. "But these numbers are people — mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.”
He’s right. Each number is a person, and each person likely mourned by many.
President Joe Biden was expected to mark the crossing with a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at sundown on Monday at the White House, joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
There’s no doubt that our country has been changed by this pandemic, and the changes aren’t done with us yet. In Forsyth County, 338 have died from the virus as of Monday. Sixty of those were lost in February, making this the deadliest COVID month locally.
Even as vaccines become more available, we’re called upon to take precautions to keep ourselves and others safe.
As the state Board of Education wrestles over just what kind of emphasis there should be on our nation’s warts — the moral failures that clutter our broad history — we fear that this virus will be another: a historic event that could have been handled so much better, with rationality, competence and compassion — if not for those who shamefully undermined a proper scientific and medical response for political gain, weaponizing long-standing ignorance and malice. There’s a fragment of the citizenry that saw in the medical response to the virus a conspiracy and selfishly insisted that their “personal freedom” was a higher priority than other people’s lives and well-being.
COVID has revealed not only cracks in our political and health care systems, but in our economics, by exacerbating income inequality. It also draws attention to racial inequity, as Black and brown people are shown to be more susceptible to contracting the virus, while having fewer resources to keep them safe — and as hate crimes against Asian Americans, committed by frankly stupid people, are on the increase, as if they’re to blame for a virus that originated half a world away.
But there’s a brighter side, too, as local communities organize resources to help. They include church groups that make masks while curtailing their own public gatherings; distillers who produced hand sanitizer by the bucketful; and local and state officials who are working with nonprofits to provide food and rent assistance to those most affected by the economic slowdown. In bad times, good people rally to make the situation better rather than worse.
There are still dark days ahead. And there’s still much we don’t know about COVID. Some patients report lingering effects, months after recovery.
There are many lessons to learn from our experience with the virus, and we likely don’t know them all yet.
But probably the most obvious lesson is how precious life is, how sad when lost. We join others across the country — around the world — in mourning those 500,000 we wish were still with us.