President Biden has ordered flags in public buildings across the country to be flown at half staff as the nation officially mourns 1 million American deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic. As he noted in a statement:
“One million empty chairs around the dinner table. Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic. Jill and I pray for each of them. To those who are grieving and asking yourself how will you go on without him or what will you do without her, I understand. I know the pain of that black hole in your heart. It is unrelenting. But I also know the ones you love are never truly gone. They will always be with you. As a nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow. To heal, we must remember. We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines, and treatments than ever before …”
The milestone that the country likely hit a while ago, a toll that many experts hoped would never be reached has proved hard to grasp for too many people in this country. The coronavirus deaths are the equivalent or exceed the populations of cities like San Jose, Calif., Austin, Tex., or Jacksonville, Fla. The comparisons are inexact and not easy, but with Memorial Day approaching, is it appropriate to note that the U.S. pandemic deaths now roughly equal the nation’s fatalities in the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined?
The country is in far better place than it was at the pandemic’s outset, with new and more treatments for the disease and preventive steps having absolutely demonstrated their safety and effectiveness. Historians, though, long will try to better document and understand why these measures, including distancing, face covering, and vaccination, were scorned by so many ─̶ at dire cost.
Researchers at Brown University and Microsoft AI Health have estimated that hundreds of thousands of American lives could have been saved, if more people simply had decided to get vaccinated, NPR reported:
“Many of the nearly 1 million Covid deaths took place in 2020 before the vaccines were available. But of the more than 641,000 people who died after vaccines were available, half of those deaths could have been averted – 318,981 – had every eligible adult gotten vaccinated. And those numbers are even more striking in certain states where more than half of deaths could have been avoided.”
Political partisanship, which continues to stall pandemic funding sought by the administration, and disinformation have become plagues of their own during the pandemic, as the researchers’ data also shows:
“The [researchers’] map of states with the most preventable deaths shows a sharp political divide – as NPR has reported, people living in counties that voted for then-President Trump in the 2020 election were three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than people who lived in counties that voted for President Biden. According to the analysis, West Virginia, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma had the most vaccine-preventable deaths per capita. Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Vermont, and Hawaii had the fewest.”
As the nation is seeing infections, hospitalizations, and deaths rise anew in the pandemic, experts are warning the public to exercise greater caution and worrying about why vulnerable people, notably older Americans, are not getting booster shots. As CNN reported of the added layer of protection, especially as the vaccines are known to wane:
“People 65 and older account for about 75% of U.S. Covid deaths. And some risk persists, even for seniors who have completed an initial two-dose series of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or gotten one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Among older people who died of covid in January, 31% had completed a first vaccination round but had not been boosted, according to a KFF analysis of CDC data. The failure to boost more of this group has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives, said Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. ‘The booster program has been botched from day one,’ Topol said. ‘This is one of the most important issues for the American pandemic, and it has been mismanaged. If the CDC would say, “This could save your life,” he added, ‘that would help a lot.’ Although the initial one- or two-dose vaccination course is effective at preventing hospitalization and death, immunity fades over time. Boosters, which renew that protection, are especially important for older people now that covid cases are rising again, more transmissible omicron subvariants are proliferating, and Americans are dropping their masks, Topol said.”
We are not done with the pandemic — and the coronavirus doesn’t care how casual we wish to be about the death and debilitation it can cause. Those with heightened vulnerability to the illness — those who are older, immunocompromised, overweight, and with underlying conditions, or individuals from hard-hit communities of color — still should stay careful, including by keeping on their masks. And, yes, so-called one-way masking has protective benefits. Face covering, just to remind, may be the requirement still in parts of the country.
A word to the wise: Don’t toss out those masks yet. The savvy will want to build up their supply, nabbing test kits, too (free from the federal government, including a second round of them, and delivered to your door). Just in case.
The vaccines remain life changers and life savers. If you have not gotten your shots, please do so, boosters and all, pronto.
If you haven’t chatted with your doctor for a bit, you should — especially about whether your individual health would benefit from an additional dose of vaccine and when might be the time to get it. Parents should discuss potential shots for their youngest kids and boosters for the older siblings with their pediatricians. (Get the young folks caught up on their shots now if you can, too.) If you have been exposed or think you have gotten infected, please get tested — and quarantine or isolate to protect yourself and others.