After nearly a year into the global pandemic, the U.S. has reached a dismal milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 related deaths.
“The massive number and the loss of those people from our society has not been acknowledged,” said Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, an epidemiologist and former president of the American Public Health Association. “We cannot think these people are disposable and dispensable and that we can just get along very well without them. It’s those kinds of blinders that sap the strength of the whole society.”
The U.S. deaths account for around 20% of total COVID deaths globally, even though the U.S. is only 4.25% of the world’s population. According to a report from the New York Times, “more Americans have died from Covid-19 than did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.”
Public health experts attribute the staggering number of deaths to the patchwork response from the Trump administration and the politicization of the public health messaging about the virus early in the pandemic as a few of the factors that have contributed to the crisis.
“From the very beginning, we had the luxury of time,” Dr. Richina Bicette, an emergency medical physician and associate medical director at the Baylor College of Medicine said. “We saw what happened in China. We saw COVID ravaging through Europe. We could have prepared better. We could have hunkered down.”
“If we had put the public health measures in place for the past year, we wouldn’t be in this position,” she continued. “We have not paid people to make it feasible for most people to safely shelter in place. We have not ensured that workplaces for those who really have to go to work are safe. We have not equipped workers who must go to work with adequate personal protective equipment.”
While cases are in decline from the midwinter peak that saw 4,400 die in just one day, the highest daily death count so far, there is still much that needs to be done to combat the continued devastation of the pandemic from increasing the supply and rate of vaccinations to enforcing mask wearing mandates and providing PPE to frontline and essential workers. Currently around 1,500 to 3,500 people a day are dying of coronavirus in the U.S.
“We don’t want people to drop their guard and think that now is the time to throw their masks away and to start gathering, because that’s going to erase all the progress that we’ve recently made. We do still have to continue to employ the mitigation strategies that we’ve been discussing since the beginning of the pandemic because people are still dying,” Dr. Bicette says.