How America’s massive COVID death toll came to feel “normal”

As the US approaches the grim statistic of one million deaths from COVID, journalist Ed Yong’s latest piece in The Atlantic takes a sobering look at how numb we’ve become to that astronomically high toll. In the early days of the pandemic, predictions of a few hundred thousand American deaths seemed shocking, but recent milestones of 800K and 900K lives lost have ticked by with little public attention.

Yong blames the invisibility of the virus: its worst impacts have been disproportionately concentrated among the disadvantaged—making it possible for COVID to more easily “disappear” from the lives of the healthy and economically advantaged. Case in point: while three percent of Americans have lost a close family member to COVID-19, the virus has taken a much larger toll on people of color, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

The Gist: The pandemic has rendered us numb to the ongoing tragic loss of life, leading us to accept over 1,500 COVID deaths each day as “normal”.

As Yong points out, it’s hard to imagine we could turn a blind eye to this number of Americans perishing every day, compared to the number who perish from hurricanes or other weather disasters, for example. While permanent memorials are built for soldiers and victims of terror attacks, they are rarely erected for victims or medical heroes of pandemics, despite the far greater death toll. 

While the pandemic is still far from over, we must ensure the difficult lessons learned are not forgotten by future generations—as has been the case with previous pandemics.   

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