Point of View Columns

When Too Many Deaths is Enough

While it would seem to be true that nobody ever lost money underestimating the attention span of the American public, it would seem that in this age of media overload and digital vertigo, the news in the morning can be forgotten by the time that dinner is served.

We certainly see that with respect to The Travesty Called Trump where even as his most outrageous – and undoubtedly unlawful – behavior is being chronicled by the January 6th Committee (while the somnolent U.S. Department of Justice continues to hibernate) more and more Americans seem to have forgotten the pure and absolute horror of an insurrection that came thisclose to succeeding.

And it is this combination of willful ignorance, intentional amnesia and digitally dulled sensitivity that helps to explain the behavior of the American public as we go into the third year of the COVID pandemic. We see masks being discarding, vaccinations being less compulsory and a general feeling that America is “tired of COVID”.

But of course, COVID is not “tired of America” just yet. The latest data show that during the first two years of COVID over 998,727 Americans have died from this disease. During this past week there has been a daily average of over 300 Americans dying. And yet these gruesome statistics have brought about a sense of caution fatigue and a willful embrace of inescapable inevitability when it comes to COVID.

Consider that over the past two years approximately 92,000 Americans died in automobile accidents. A sad statistic to be sure. But if one million Americans had died in car accidents it would be considered a national emergency – an outrage and rightfully so – because measures can be taken to save lives – seat belts, airbags, speed limits, etc.

Yet somehow, someway, the American public is okay with one million COVID deaths, with the promise of more deaths to come in the case of best results. Consider the level of denial that must be spreading across this land for over 300 COVID deaths a day to be acceptable. Again, using the automobile analogy – currently an average of 102 Americans die in automobile accidents every day. If that number somehow tripled to 300 Americans a day, there would a national emergency given all of the safety measures that are already in place and observed by Americans voluntarily – seatbelts, for example – and involuntarily – airbags for example.

There are safety measures that Americans can take regarding COVID voluntarily – vaccinations, masks, for example – and involuntarily – lockdowns, for example. Yet the resistance to low impact, low effort safety measures like vaccinations and masks are still resisted by so many Americans, and prematurely discarded that the risk of another wave seems almost inevitable.

Nevertheless, it comes down to the fact that Americans have become so numb to death during this pandemic that COVID no longer inspires sufficient fear or caution.

We can hope that COVID is fading away, but it is sad that we can do so much more than hope – but as a collective nation we do not.