Remembering Those We’ve Lost as the United States Reaches 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths

By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor

SOUTH JERSEY — On Sunday evening, the United States’ death toll from the coronavirus pandemic crossed 500,000.

Putting that number and the sheer loss of life that accompanies it in perspective is a near impossible task, but Americans have tried to do so in a number of ways. The New York Times ran a front-page visual of those 500,000 deaths last Sunday. President Joe Biden compared COVID-19’s death toll to three of the bloodiest conflicts in American history — the two World Wars and the Vietnam War — during an address to the nation on Monday.

It’s also more difficult to put COVID-19’s death toll in perspective without looking at it from our own communities’ perspective. As of February 23, 350 Cumberland County residents had died due to COVID-19. The pandemic has claimed 530 and 162 lives in Gloucester and Salem counties, respectively. Camden County’s COVID-19 death toll is 1,115. Atlantic, Ocean, and Cape May counties have lost 552, 1,813, and 178 people, respectively.

Those numbers are even more difficult to swallow when you consider the fact that there are 3,141 counties or equivalent entities (i.e. parishes in Louisiana) in the United States. With 500,000 total deaths, the average amount of deaths per county is approximately 160. Theoretically, nearly every county in South Jersey has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — some more drastically than others.

Thousands of our neighbors have lost their lives due to COVID-19, and the sheer reach of the pandemic’s devastation could have been prevented. Nearly one-third of those who’ve died as a result of COVID-19 were nursing home residents, and more than 80% of the death toll is made up of community members aged 65 and older. The coronavirus has also disproportionately affected racial minorities, as the life expectancy for Black and Latinx Americans decreased by 2.7 and 1.9 years, respectively, over the first six months of 2020. White Americans’ life expectancy fell by 0.8 years in that time.

President Biden ordered that all flags throughout the country fly at half-staff to honor the memory of those who’ve been lost to this pandemic.

“The people we lost were extraordinary,” President Biden said during his address. “We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”

We can try to compare, visualize, and put the death toll in perspective all we want, but COVID-19’s true impact isn’t seen on a public stage. The true impact is seen through empty seats at dinner tables. It’s seen through weekends spent without visits to grandma and grandpa’s house. And it’s seen through grieving families not even being able to spend their loved ones’ final moments by their side due to the dangers and contagious nature of COVID-19.

Even those who haven’t experienced a loss of life in their family have been impacted by COVID-19. Many children haven’t been able to attend school in-person. Others have transitioned from going into their office or workplace every day to an all-virtual work environment. And then there’s the isolation, boredom, and anxiety — consequences that perhaps can’t be measured by facts or figures — that millions have faced.

There are countless other statistics and anecdotes we can list off and share to show COVID-19’s devastation on the United States. We can lament the failures of those in power and grieve for those we’ve lost. But it’s also important to take some time to reflect and remember the hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to this pandemic.

Whether you’re an elected official, a prominent figure in your community, or just another average Joe, it’s also important to learn from this pandemic and work to create a better tomorrow once we emerge from the darkness that COVID-19 has brought our world.

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