When we reached a half-million dead from the Coronavirus on February 22nd, experts began tossing around numbers—the entire population of Atlanta, all the deaths from three major wars, etc. We always do that with unimaginable numbers, as if comparing them with something will help.
I don’t know what analogies work anymore, but I offer this: it would take the average person six days with no breaks in between to count to 500,000, though that’s far from what it would take in reality. It’s a large number. A long time. Weeks.
The numbers are astounding, shocking, disheartening. But they're also cold. And so last night when President Biden fireside-chatted the American people, he tried to soften those numbers in the only way possible—by attaching names, by reducing them to 500,000 individual losses times the number of family, friends, neighbors, memories affected. It was a good step.
Biden could not avoid the comparisons, but his overriding message was one the previous president could never have made—one that required knowledge, empathy, and simple humanity; yet, when it was over I felt more anger than comfort. It seems that the further we delve into this plague and the closer we come to digging our way out, the more certain we are that it never had to happen.
Almost a year ago the current Chief Medical Advisor Tony Fauci foresaw deaths in the 240,000 to 260,000 range...and we gasped. That could never happen in a country like ours, we said, with a booming stock market and a healthy economy and an advanced scientific community and the best medical care. And we were right—it didn’t happen. It was worse.
Fauci’s prediction was based not only on science but also on his faith in humanity and confidence in our leaders. He believed we would take whatever steps were necessary to combat this plague, and we did—for a few weeks. Then it became too difficult and we decided to divide up into factions, eschewing the fact that there was strength in numbers. By late spring with the virus raging, we were no longer involved in a nationwide struggle for survival, but in an internecine war: blue vs. red, Democrat vs. Republican, masked vs. maskless, scientific intelligence vs. Trumpism inanity. And now, in 2021, after all we should have learned, the vaccine/anti-vaccine wars have ramped up. It appears that when Tony Fauci made his estimate last spring, he never considered the self-destructive bent of the people he served.
And on we go. The CDC predicts another 90,000 deaths by March 13. Ninety-thousand. Start counting now, allow for meals and sleep and bathroom breaks, and you might get to 90,000 by that date.
I’m too often guilty of talking about a return to some kind of normal. I’ll stop if you will. Normal is gone for any of us who have paid attention this past year, who knew this was not some hoax, and who watched aghast as the number of fatalities grew. We will never look at the world in the same way, and maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe when the next virus attacks, we’ll listen to the people who know and ignore the fools and charlatans whose tweets ushered so many Americans to their deaths these past twelve months.