As the COVID death toll in the United States approaches 1 million, the Washington National Cathedral rang its bell 1,000 times Monday evening, once for every 1,000 people who died from the virus.
The devastating 1-million milestone was a once-unimaginable number when the world-changing pandemic broke out more than two years ago and caused America’s first known death.
It is a permanent badge of shame on a powerful developed nation to have lost so many lives to the coronavirus, no matter how hard it tries to whitewash its botched response and move on from the public health crisis, which has also reported more than 82 million infections, the highest in the world.
Researchers agree that if American leaders and policymakers had taken seriously early warnings from the international community and public health experts and put science over politics, hundreds of thousands of deaths and many more infections could have been avoided.
The gut-wrenching reality is that a toxic and deadly cocktail of inaction and incompetence resulted in a human rights disaster and led to a “perfect storm” of COVID-19 swirling across the United States, shaking the logistically and morally ill-prepared nation to its core while exposing the full extent of political, economic and social maladies deeply rooted in America.
COVID-19 has hit minority groups much harder in the United States due to their relative lack of access to health care and resources, despite more likely being essential workers required to work on the pandemic frontline.
Consequently, African Americans experienced a downturn in life expectancy of a shocking 2.9 years, compared to 1.2 years for whites, according to a study published by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
“Racial inequality was baked into the recipe of the creation of the United States of America,” Brookings senior fellow Rashawn Ray argued. “When crises like the COVID-19 pandemic occur, inequalities are exacerbated rather than diminished.”
The United States irresponsibly allowed infectious cases to spread to other countries and regions, while disseminating conspiracy theories and sowing divisions, severely undermining global efforts to combat COVID-19 at a time when unity and collaboration are more needed than ever.
“With America in the lead, the world was more divided than ever. America’s failure to coordinate a response was no mere sideshow,” English historian and professor at Columbia University Adam Tooze wrote. “What 2020 showed, in fact, was that America’s dysfunctions are the world’s problem.”
The COVID-19 death rate in the United States is slowing down thanks to a broad rollout of vaccines. However, the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants has mercilessly shaped the curve of daily new deaths like a rollercoaster. Although deaths in the United States continue to fall, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising due to highly contagious Omicron subvariants.
US politicians, however, appear eager to turn the page. The White House declared a “new moment” in the COVID-19 pandemic in March, as restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus were largely lifted, with senior government officials attending high-profile indoor gatherings to demonstrate a return to normalcy, albeit still prematurely.
Top US infectious disease expert and White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci reportedly criticized in private the decision to hold the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, after which several guests, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, tested positive for COVID-19, warning that it could be a troubling sign that many Americans no longer view COVID-19 as a serious threat.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, to be sure — there’s no confusion about that,” Fauci said during an interview with American news publication Foreign Policy in early May. “We hope that we don’t see a major uptick as we get into the fall, but that remains to be seen. We’re going to have to wait and see.”
Steven Thrasher, a Scientific American columnist and professor at Northwestern University, tweeted that the United States is “well into an era of willful, collective amnesia” and that “the shame of a million dead is too much to face — so most won’t.” American epidemiologist and science communicator Tara Smith echoed the opinion, tweeting that “a million+ deaths and we already want to forget and move on.”
The White House asked for roughly 82 billion US dollars for pandemic preparedness in its latest federal budget request. Still, this amount was only about one-tenth of what it sought for military operations in the new fiscal year, much to the chagrin of many. Furthermore, new COVID-19 funding remains stalled in Congress due to partisan gridlock despite repeated administration requests.
Noting some 1 million people have died from COVID in the United States, American writer Robert Jones, Jr. tweeted. “Governments are apathetic. Politicians are indifferent. Our neighbors think they’re invulnerable. Families are devastated. Children are orphaned. Stories are gone. Untold wisdom is lost.”
A senior administration official has reportedly stated that the White House is preparing for up to 100 million Americans to contract COVID-19 during a wave this fall and winter if Congress does not provide funding for vaccines and tests, referring to the median of a range of models from outside experts, as part of a renewed push to get financial assistance from a divided Capitol Hill.
As the United States moves forward, at least 1 million people and their families and friends will be unable to do so. The blame is placed squarely on the country’s failed leadership and policies, which have inscribed an agonizing chapter in its history and the memories of millions of Americans.