Sometime in the next few days, the number of confirmed deaths from COVID-19 will reach the milestone of 100,000 (the actual number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 already exceeds 100,000 according to medical experts).
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked President Donald Trump in a letter to lower U.S. flags to half-staff this weekend as a tribute to the dead. Trump tweeted hours later that he would do just that for three days “in memory of the Americans we have lost to the coronavirus.”
President Trump ordered that flags on all federal buildings and national monuments be lowered to half-staff as the Memorial Day weekend begins. The decree is to honor the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus. Trump Orders Flags To Half-Staff To Honor Coronavirus Victims:
The decision to honor victims of the disease marks a change for the president, who previously has not shown much empathy for them, preferring to spend public briefings praising himself and attacking others.
The flags will remain lowered on Memorial Day in order to honor men and women in the military “who have made the Ultimate Sacrifice for our Nation.”
Trump’s statements from February dismissing the seriousness of this pandemic when we should have been preparing for the worse are a cruel reminder of the gross incompetence of this administration:
Feb. 10: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do — you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” — Trump at the White House.
Feb. 14: “There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm — historically, that has been able to kill the virus. So we don’t know yet; we’re not sure yet. But that’s around the corner.” — Trump in speaking to National Border Patrol Council members.
Feb. 26: “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” — Trump at a press conference.
Feb. 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” — Trump at a White House meeting with African American leaders.
The spread of the novel coronavirus has not slowed in 24 states, according to a new model by Imperial College London that forecasts infection spikes as more people travel and leave their homes in the coming weeks.
What they found: Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Colorado and Ohio are at the highest risk in the college’s model — which has not yet been peer-reviewed — followed by Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama and Wisconsin.
This is not the “second wave” but rather a continuing rise in the current wave of COVID-19 infections due to relaxing lockdown orders and social distancing too soon. This long holiday weekend should produce a new spike in reported cases and hospitalizations in about two weeks. States should be making an effort to secure adequate supplies to hospitals now.
The “Big House,” Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan, holds the record for the largest attendance for a college football game. In November 2018, the Penn State-Michigan matchup drew 111,747 fans to Michigan Stadium.
By early June, the confirmed number of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 will surpass 111,747.
Imagine if everyone at the football game above died suddenly in a catastrophic event, live on TV. The nation would be in a stunned state of shock and disbelief, followed by tears and cries of anger and grief. If it was due to a terrorist attack, the U.S. military would be ordered on high alert, and before the end of the following week the U.S. would be at war with whatever nation had given safe harbor to the terrorists, without any doubt.
But the victims of COVID-19 are dying from a disease at a steady pace since February 29, often dying alone on a ventilator in a hospital room with only nursing staff to observe their passing and to offer a final prayer. The public, and even their family members, do not witness their death. They die in obscurity. They do not even receive a funeral service and a proper burial so as not to spread the virus among their grieving mourners. While their passing is a tragedy to their immediate family and friends, the death of the patient becomes a mere statistic to the general public in the daily reporting of death statistics in news coverage.
Unless you know someone who has been infected with COVID-19 and has been hospitalized, and perhaps died, or know medical professionals who are treating COVID-19 patients, this disease has not really touched your life (yet), other than the mere inconvenience of lockdown orders and social distancing imposed by governments to try to slow the spread of the virus and to save your life. And yet you complain and protest these mere inconveniences.
When people die at a steady pace it is easy to become accustomed to large numbers of people dying and normalizing it. I recall the weekly “body count” reports from the Vietnam War on the evening news. As long as more Vietcong were being killed than Americans, we were “winning,” as if the dead were just a score in some deadly game. Those were my relatives slogging through the rice paddies, it wasn’t a “game” to our family.
On this Memorial Day weekend I am also reminded of World War II, the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated total of 70–85 million people died, including over 20 million military personnel and over 40 million civilians, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population.
This is what can happen when the human race becomes accustomed to large numbers of people dying on a daily basis and normalizing it. We lose our humanity with a callous disregard for suffering and the value of human life. A statement frequently misattributed to Joseph Stalin, who killed an estimated 20 million people in labor camps, forced collectivization, famine and executions, is: “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.”
Those who have died, are dying, and who will die from COVID-19 are not a mere statistic. They have a name and each of them lived a unique life, some of them exceptionally. They leave behind family and friends who loved them, who will long share cherished memories of them, and who will miss them every day of the rest of their lives. Their lives mattered.
The dead deserve to be remembered, respected, honored and mourned. This nation should properly mourn their deaths, just as we mourned the deaths from terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and military conflicts.
The LA Times reports, Little sense of shared grief as virus deaths near 100,000 (excerpts from a long piece):
[A]s the nation nears 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 — far more than all those tragic events combined or the entire Vietnam War — there is little sense this Memorial Day weekend that Americans are grieving together or uniting in a sense of purpose.
President Trump, loath to dwell on those dismal figures, is both stoking the polarized response and counting on a fragmented experience to distract the nation from the almost incomprehensible death toll — nearly triple that of any other country — which could tar his presidency and jeopardize his chance for reelection in November.
In this hyper-partisan era, opposing camps have found a way to bicker over the dead as just another talking point, especially as Trump has cast criticism of his administration’s response as driven purely by politics.
[E]arlier this week, with the elderly most at risk from COVID-19, he dismissed some of the deceased as “very old, almost dead” and [in Orwellian doublespeak] sought to frame the ever-rising fatality count as evidence of a successful government response, arguing that “millions” more would have perished had the government not mobilized at all.
Critics have lambasted his administration’s response as slow, callous and incompetent. And new estimates by Columbia University researchers concluded that social distancing orders even a week earlier in March would have saved 36,000 lives, or more than a third of the fatalities so far.
Polls show clear divisions in the way Americans experience the virus and view its grim impact — cutting along race, geography and especially political party.
“Very few people knew anyone who died on 9/11, but it was not ‘those people,’” said Cornell Belcher, a pollster who worked for President Obama and other Democrats. “It was all of us.”
“That’s not happening this time around,” he said. “There are two sides driving their own narratives.”
Black, Latino and other racial and ethnic minority groups have been hit especially hard by the virus, partly due to greater likelihood of preexisting medical conditions and lower access to healthcare, especially in poor communities.
While the contagion has spread to more rural, more conservative areas, many of those stricken so far are immigrants who work in meatpacking plants, inmates in prisons and residents in nursing homes and other elder-care facilities. Many cannot vote.
Because U.S. cases and deaths far exceed any other nation, Trump has relentlessly argued [a conspiracy theory] that the figures appear inflated because more testing is done here. But the country’s sluggish start on testing is widely blamed for the higher death toll since it slowed the response.
“It’s almost irrelevant that the numbers are people. He switches them, mocks them — he does everything with these numbers to avoid the fact that these are people,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University.
Zelizer argues that Trump’s version affects how the rest of the country experiences the pandemic, reducing deaths to a number on a television screen and diminishing the “human introspection in terms of what the death toll is compared to wars.”
Trump speaks rarely and mostly only in passing of the emotional toll the deaths have taken on the nation’s psyche, or the countless individuals grieving for loved ones.
Because Americans have been forced to isolate from one another to avoid spreading the virus, there are fewer funerals or other mass gatherings to console one another and share grief.
Many families have said farewells over cellphones or Zoom to quarantined parents and siblings dying in nursing homes and hospitals, adding to the trauma felt by loved ones.
“Grief must be witnessed,” said Kessler, the grief expert. “We want to know our loved ones’ life and death mattered. We want our family and friends to witness it, our community and we need our country to witness it. And it’s not happening on any level.”
But most of the grieving, much like the deaths, takes place out of public view. And the morbid tabulations that appear at the bottom of the TV screen don’t come close to conveying the human toll or its scope.
The New York Times took the extraordinary step of devoting its entire front page of the Sunday paper to the names of those who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. NYT Fills Front Page With the Names of Coronavirus Dead:
An image of the heartbreaking display in the early edition was posted on the newspaper’s Twitter account on Saturday evening. The headline reads: “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss.” According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker, the death toll in the U.S. stood at 96,875 at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
David Von Drehle at the Washington Post writes, Honor how those felled by the virus lived, not just how they died (excerpt):
On America’s official calendar, the day of the dead, Memorial Day, comes with the full flood of springtime, when the seed of the world so thickens the air that eyes sting and noses run, Nature’s lust for life bursts out in every bud and flower; the grass is greener, the sky is bluer. What a marvelous notion. A commemoration of lives lost — at the moment when every fiber and filament is saturated with new beginnings.
Some people are scandalized by the way we mark Memorial Day. Appalled by the lack of solemnity, by the barbecues and baseball games, the beer drinking and suntanning, the flirtations and frivolity, the shrieking toddlers dashing through lawn sprinklers, the music blaring through the windows of parked cars long after the sun goes down. This bacchanalia seems disrespectful to those we claim to honor.
But those who die for comrades and country do not die for the sake of mourning. They must have thought in their last days and hours of ballgames or cold bottles of beer, of love and passion, of laughing children or stirring music — of something joyful. “Life is real! Life is earnest!” as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote. “And the grave is not its goal.” We honor them in part by honoring their happiness as well as their pain, their gains as well as their loss; how they lived, not just how they died.
On this Memorial Day, we have new memories to honor. The pandemic takes its toll on nurses and doctors — not infantrymen. On EMTs and orderlies, not bomber crews. Their real and earnest lives, given in service to the nation, point to a goal beyond the grave.
Abraham Lincoln, on the Gettysburg battlefield, said memorably that the goal of so much death was “a new birth.” The origins of Memorial Day reflect this idea, that we honor the dead by more fully living as one nation, one people, one community. In one of the holiday’s many roots, the women of Columbus, Miss., went in the first post-Civil War springtime to decorate the resting places of the fallen, Gray and Blue alike. When he learned of the gesture, a lawyer and poet in the North named Francis Miles Finch embraced this new beginning. “They banish our anger forever / When they laurel the graves of our dead,” he wrote.
This covid war has become a source of division (though hardly as divisive as that one). All wars, even the noblest, strain our bonds and test our unity, because wars involve uncertainty, uncertainty creates mistakes and mistakes invite recriminations. But when we remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion, we do so together. Memorial Day is an affirmation that what we share is worth even the greatest sacrifices, that a nation worth dying for is also worth living for. Remembering isn’t an end but a beginning.
Finally, do your part to protect yourself and to protect others from spreading this deadly virus by following the recommended CDC guidelines. It is only a small sacrifice and inconvenience which may save your life and the life of others. Demonstrate that we really are “all in this together.”