Los Angeles Times OpinionLos Angeles Times Opinion
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a Corona Task Force briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. With deaths caused by the coronavirus rising and foreseeable economic turmoil, the Senate is working on legislation for a $1 trillion aid package to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump announced that tax day will be delayed from April 15 to July 15. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, briefing the nation on the coronavirus in March 2020. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

In late March 2020 President Trump held a White House briefing in which his top advisors presented their official COVID-19 death projections. If we followed reasonable social-distancing and other guidelines, between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the disease.

Two hundred and forty thousand dollars! That was a lot of deaths. Four times the number of Americans who died in Vietnam. The number of deaths in the 9/11 attacks was much higher.

As sobering as that number is, we should be prepared for it, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert. If we behaved as we should, there would be light at the end of the tunnel, but it would be a very tough two weeks.

We all know how that ended. We did not behave as we should. After two weeks, we didn't see the light. We did not have 100,000 deaths or 240,000 deaths.

Instead, we are on the verge of 1 million deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 986,000 deaths in the US as of Sunday.

Our national death rate of more than 200 deaths per 100,000 people is higher than any other industrialized nation.

There are some positive signs. There are vaccines we have. We have people who support us. Hospitalizations and deaths are not as high as they used to be.

The virus doesn't seem to be done with us. There are new versions emerging in the U.S. and abroad. Omicron is well past the high point it reached in January, but there are other subvariants. In California, COVID case numbers are increasing in part due to the relaxation of indoor masking rules.

We continue to fight about how to protect our children, about how to mask requirements, and about the benefits of immunization. Social media has untruths. Science and health are politicized.

This is a confusing moment. The danger has decreased. Liberals who hate Trump, revere Fauci and follow all the rules are very sick of hiding from this disease. We want our lives back.

We tell ourselves that there is a level of ongoing death we can live with. The flu is endemic, not a pandemic. We are vaxxed, and better yet boosted, and so we are kind of vulnerable.

Now is a good time to slow down and avoid getting carried away. Only 34% of the country has received a booster, and only 34% has been fully vaccined. There are 1.7 million people over the age of 5 who haven't received a vaccine. As long as the virus is raging anywhere, the possibility of new, more dangerous mutations is real.

We might be able to slow the process and prevent 1 million from becoming 2 million.

It is hard for humans to see a large number of deaths. According to Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon, people suffer from psychic numbing when death tolls rise. One death is a tragedy according to an academic's restatement of the line. There are a million deaths.

I would like to offer some context.

Cancer and heart disease killed more people in the last two years than Communism did.

COVID was the third leading cause of death in the US in 2020.

More people have died in the Vietnam War, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 than in the four years of the Civil War.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 38,824 people died in traffic accidents in 2020.

According to the CDC, 675,000 Americans died in the flu epidemic of 1918. 50 million people died around the world.

Each of those million deaths represents a real person with a real life ending early. Nine family members are left behind when a person dies of COVID.

Many of us know someone who has died of this terrible disease. 75% of the dead are over the age of 65. The people who have died are more likely to be immunocompromised or unvaccinated. It's disproportionately black. It's disproportionately working-class.

According to data gathered at Imperial College London, 200,000 American children have lost a parent to the disease.

I forgot to mention the 1 million deaths. That is likely an undercount.

How will these years be remembered in the future? A blip? A world-historic catastrophe? Will we remember how we failed to protect ourselves, how we were pitted against each other, how we failed to stay home?

The COVID years may be remembered in the same way as 9/11. Great Pandemic stories may be told to our children or they may be a part of life by then.

I'm feeling a little more relaxed these days, and I'm eating dinners out more. I am enjoying the freedom.

I think this isn't over yet.


The story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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