As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to recede after killing 1,000,000 of our fellow citizens in two years, social workers who deal in public policy are asking the question, "How did our society let this deadly disease get so out of control and do so much damage?"
A History of Sudden Death
The conversation around "How we could have done better in our response to COVID-19" centers around the question of how our society became inured to the sudden violent death of so many people. Throughout American history we have had dramatic responses to sudden violent death events.
- Perhaps no other events in history traumatized the American consciousness more than the major wars that slaughtered so many of our young men.
- In World War II, more than 418, 500 Americans were killed.
- World War I was marked by the slaughter of 116, 516 Americans over more than 5 years of trench warfare.
- And, amazingly, more than 618, 222 combatants died on both sides of the conflict during the Civil War.
- Civil authorities and private citizens alike are horrified that we kill one another in traffic accidents at the rate of 38,824 motorists in 2020 and 31,720 in 2021.
- Gun related violent deaths are a constant tragic theme in the American debate on gun control.
- In 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by guns (23,941 suicides and 14,414 homicides).
- In 2019, 39,389 were killed in gun related incidents (23,941 suicides and 15,448 homicides).
- Tracking the trend just a little further, 2018 saw 39,328 -gun related deaths (24,432 suicides and 14,896 homicides).
All these sudden death events over the course of America's history have been followed by outrage, horror and disbelief sending up calls for civil reform and corrective action. Compare the statistics above with those listed below and ask yourself the question...
Why No Outrage?
From the very beginning, our country began to debate the COVID-19 experience. What started it? Who was to blame? Is it really dangerous? Should society be shutdown to prevent its spread? Should everyone wear a mask? Are vaccinations necessary? Should everyone be required to get a vaccination? Should anyone be required to do anything to stop the spread of the virus? Is the information we're getting from our health officials accurate? Should we heed the science? Debating - when the COVID sudden death statistics dwarf all of the above?!
- The World Health Organization reports that 14.9 million people died as a result of COVID-19 between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
- In the United States, approximately 346,000 lives were lost in the pandemic's first year and, even with the widespread availability of vaccinations in 2021, an additional 482,000 lives were lost that year. Another 171,000 deaths occurred this year through early May.
- Nearly 740,000 seniors died from Covid-19, or 1 out of every 100 seniors in the country. Seniors account for the vast majority of Covid deaths in the U.S., with about 75% of all deaths being people 65 and older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- More than 150,000 nursing home residents have died of Covid-19, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition, 2,300 nursing home staffers also died. In February, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported more than 200,000 deaths after combining resident and staff fatalities (more fatalities than occurred in all of World War I).
- The coronavirus spread easily at state and federal prisons across the country, where inmates were packed in poorly maintained facilities without the ability to maintain physical distance from one another. More than 2,800 incarcerated people died of Covid-19 as of May 5, and nearly 300 prison staff members also died, according to data from the COVID Prison Project, an organization of public health scientists.
- At least 600 police officers died from Covid as of April, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks fallen officers. Covid-19 was the leading cause of death for police officers last year.
- About 3,600 health care workers died in 2020, according to a Guardian and Kaiser Health News investigation. When the pandemic started, health care workers were working nonstop shifts, often without the proper protective equipment to keep from getting sick themselves. The pandemic may have a long-lasting impact on health care professionals who have suffered mental trauma – with nearly 1 in 5 workers calling it quits.
Society's Invisible Segments
The elderly, the imprisoned, those confined to nursing homes - the invisible segments of society. That's why no one seemed to notice that a staggering 1 million Americans died in two years’ time. That's why we're still debating how dangerous COVID-19 might be. Wow!
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