To say it is not to fully absorb it: Our nation of 330 million souls has lost 1 million lives in just over two years to a virus that landed here in January 2020. Nor is the deeply humbling total, which has touched almost every American family, the end. We mark the milestone when there’s a merciful lull in casualties from COVID-19 — only about 400 Americans are now dying daily, thanks to vaccinations, natural immunity and a prevalent mutation that’s less deadly — but no guarantees about the future.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” So too here. The virions themselves, enemies of humankind since the dawn of time, are the villains. But there are humans whose negligence or incompetence or overt politicization made the deadly killer’s job easier.
Early obfuscation by Beijing enabled the virus to sucker-punch nations worldwide. Local and state leaders in New York, though generally doing their best, were discombobulated and likely too slow when it mattered most. Much worse, at a time when Americans were the most vulnerable, Donald Trump promoted nonsense remedies and turned public health into just another front in a culture war. A lead member of his own COVID Task Force, Dr. Deborah Birx, said without Trump’s obsessive focus on winning the November election, another 130,000 lives could have been saved.
Trump deserves credit for leading a federal effort that produced safe, life-saving vaccines in record time; the shots have spared hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans — but the contempt for authority and science he earlier fomented came back to kneecap inoculation efforts, which still have only reached two-thirds of Americans (never mind boosters).
Here in the nation’s largest city, where 40,220 people have died of COVID-19, memories remain fresh of the nightmare days of April 2020, when ICUs overflowed and more than 700 New Yorkers daily were laid to rest.
Remember every name. Honor every helper. Learn every lesson.