Indifference is not an option

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Three months ago, there wasn’t a single death from COVID-19 in this country. The first death was reported on February 29 (Leap Day, how ironic is that?), and it made some news but only in a glancing fashion, because it happened far away in Washington state.

But it couldn’t come here, right?

As everyone now knows, it did come here. All fifty states have now lost people to this virus, with New York bearing the brunt of the carnage. And carnage is an appropriate word, because it’s the equivalent of suffering a 9/11 event every day for over a month. And the end is nowhere in sight, either.

When an article from an online source was posted to Facebook today—noting the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19—there was somebody who remarked “so what?” And I called him out on this, which doesn’t change a damn thing or give the author of that comment the empathy that he so clearly lacks. But there are so many people now suffering from the loss of an important person in their lives. For anyone to dismiss these deaths, on any level, is simply wrong.

The number of losses from the virus has spiraled ever upward, throughout March and April and now into May. The misleading comparisons to influenza have fallen apart by now, and never should have been offered in the first place. 61,000 deaths (spread out over a 12 month period) is always going to be the number that was once laid down as a marker, one which the coronavirus could not hope to match. But nobody throws that number around anymore. We’re far beyond that figure.

When I read through the names that were printed on the front page of the New York Times over the weekend, one of the names stopped me cold. It was on the left hand side of the page, below the fold. The name escapes me right now, but everything else about this man—his age, his home town, and the description of him as a husband and father—matched me to a T. And I had to catch my breath, realizing that the luck of the draw favored me in a way that it did not favor him.

I didn’t know this man personally, or any of the other names that actually stretched out from the front page and across three more pages as well, but that does not mean that I have been unaffected by the spread of this virus. Far from it.  One hundered thousand people, from all walks of life, were here with us on New Year’s Day, and now they’re gone.

And the people who have been lost is one terrible thing. But another, and far more insidious, loss has been absorbed by the people they left behind. The restrictions of social distancing mean that large funerals are now a thing of the past. Small services are now the best we can do, and many people are concerned about even doing that much. The grieving process has been upended, and that will linger on with the ones who must carry on without those we have lost.

And it’s not just the ones who have died from COVID-19, either. Nobody who has died, for any reason, has been given what we might consider a proper send-off over the past three months. That only spreads out the misery even further. So the 100,000 deaths, as horrible as that number is, doesn’t begin to tell the story of the toll that this virus has taken on our country.

So let’s not, even for a moment, act that this is not a tragedy of immense proportions. The cover of today’s USA Today, as shown above, gives a sense of just how large the death toll  has been.

America is now suffering from more cases, and more deaths—and thus more misery—than any nation on earth. The ones who would downplay this or put up any sign of indifference to it are doing it for one reason: they believe it allows Donald Trump to escape any responsibility for what has occurred. And they are wrong in this.

The words I have written in this space will be nothing, when compared with the cosmic reckoning that must surely await these COVID deniers someday. There’s a tremendous loss that they have disgracefully chosen to ignore.

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