The toll was mostly a number for weeks after Cindy Pollock started planting tiny flags in her yard, one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by COVID-19. Until two women she’d never met rang her doorbell in tears, looking for a place to mourn the father and husband they had just lost.
Then Pollock knew her tribute would never begin to express the sorrow of a pandemic that has now claimed 500,000 lives in the U.S. and counting, however heartfelt.
She said, “I just wanted to hug them.” “Because that was all I was capable of doing.”
The pandemic reached a landmark Monday after a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S. that once seemed impossible, a clear affirmation of the virus’s penetration into all parts of the nation and populations of all sizes and makeup.
“Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, said, “It’s very difficult for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or who has a family member who has died. “We really haven’t fully understood how bad it is for all of us, how devastating it is.”
Experts warn that in the next six months, amid a huge effort to vaccinate individuals, about 90,000 more deaths are possible. Meanwhile, the tragedy of the country continues to accrue in a manner unprecedented in recent American life, said Donna Schuurman of Portland, Oregon’s Dougy Center for Mourning Children & Families.
Americans have pulled together to confront disasters and console survivors at other times of epic loss, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet the country is profoundly divided this time around. Death, extreme disease and financial distress are being dealt with by staggering numbers of families. And many are left in solitude to cope, unable to even hold funerals.
“We are all grieving in a way,” said Schuurman, who advised the families of those killed in terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and shootings at school.
In recent weeks, virus deaths have declined to an average of less than 1,900 per day from more than 4,000 recorded on some days in January.
Still, the toll registered by Johns Hopkins University, at half a million, is already larger than the population of Miami or Kansas City, Missouri. The number of Americans killed in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined, is approximately comparable. Every day for almost six months, it is close to 9/11.
President Joe Biden said Monday, “The people we lost were extraordinary,” urging Americans to consider the individual lives taken by the virus, rather than be numbed by the enormity of the toll.
“Just like that,” he said, “so many of them have taken their last breath in America alone.”
The toll, which accounts for 1 in 5 recorded deaths worldwide, has far surpassed early estimates, which predicted that a robust and sustained response would be marshalled by federal and state governments and individual Americans would heed warnings.
Instead, last spring, a drive to restart the economy and the reluctance of many to retain social distance and wear face masks fuelled the spread.
The numbers alone may not come close to the heartbreak being captured.
I never doubted once that he was not going to make it. … “Nancy Espinoza, whose husband, Antonio, was hospitalised with COVID-19 last month, said, “I believed so much in him and my faith.
The couple from California’s Riverside County had been together since high school. They sought parallel careers in nursing and they began a family. Then, on the 25th of January, Nancy was called to Antonio’s bedside just before the last beat of his heart. He was 36 and left a 3-year-old son behind.
According to a Pew Research Center study, by late last fall, 54 percent of Americans reported knowing someone who had died of COVID-19 or was hospitalised with it. The sorrow among Black Americans, Hispanics and other minorities was much more common.
Since then, deaths have almost doubled, with the scourge spreading well beyond the urban areas of the Northeast and Northwest slammed by the virus last spring and the cities of the Sun Belt struck hard last summer.
The seriousness of the danger in some areas was slow to sink in.
When a beloved professor died last spring at a community college in Petoskey, Michigan, people mourned, but many remained wary of the magnitude of the hazard, Mayor John Murphy said. That changed after a local family held a party in a barn over the summer. Out of the 50 who attended, 33 got infected. Three of them died, he said.
“I think people felt, at a distance, ‘This is not going to get me,'” Murphy said. “Over time, though, the attitude has entirely shifted from ‘Not me. That’s not our area. “I’m not old enough,” to where the real deal has been.
The most painful talks were the ones without answers for Anthony Hernandez, whose Emmerson-Bartlett Memorial Chapel in Redlands, California, was overwhelmed with the burial of COVID-19 victims, as he tried to console mothers, fathers and children who had lost loved ones.
“We had every gurney at one point, every dressing table, every embalming table with someone on it,” he said.
Pollock unveiled the memorial in her yard last fall in Boise, Idaho, to address what she saw as a widespread denial of the threat. In December, as deaths spiked, she was planting 25 to 30 new flags at a time. But those who pause or stop to pay respect or to mourn have somewhat eased her anger.
“I think that’s part of what I wanted, to get people to talk,” she said, “Not just like, ‘Look at how many flags are in the yard today compared to last month,’ but trying to help people who have lost loved ones talk to others.”