There is a lot to keep track of these days, and almost all of it is awful.
Tensions are high at today’s World Health Organization (WHO) meeting as China and the U.S. growl at each other over Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s baseless allegation that COVID-19 emerged from a Wuhan laboratory, and over accusations from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that China used air travel to “seed” COVID around the world. Navarro went on to blame the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the monstrous spread of the virus in the U.S., despite the fact that the CDC acts upon the direction of the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Health and Human Services director Alex Azar tried to deflect blame for the country’s high COVID-19 death toll away from the Trump administration by seemingly blaming people of color for dying. When the issue of the disproportionate effect COVID has had on the Black community was raised, Azar began, “Unfortunately, the American population is a very diverse…” before retreating from saying the quiet part loud on network television. Unfortunately? Say no more, Mr. Azar. You just let the racist cat out of the bigot’s bag.
While speaking to Tapper, Azar also let loose one of the more profound lies ever told by a public official not named Donald Trump. “We are seeing that in places that are opening, we’re not seeing this spike in cases,” he said. This is brazenly false. Texas, Alabama, North Dakota and Wisconsin are among several “reopening” states that have seen definitive, even dramatic increases in COVID cases since the rush to please the money began in earnest.
Azar lied because his boss wants this to be true. It isn’t. “The coronavirus pandemic is spreading out from urban centers and increasingly infecting residents in small rural counties, even as some of those areas begin to loosen lockdown requirements aimed at stopping its spread,” reports The Hill. “A new analysis shows nearly three-quarters of Americans live in counties where the virus is now spreading widely.”
These reports are but a portion of the avalanche of bad news we endure today, and every day. Within this vale of tears lie stacked layers of sorrow. Many of these new infections are happening in prisons, senior care facilities and meatpacking plants. Within the walls of these places are the forgotten ones, the ignored and the disdained, the lowest rungs of the American social order.
The confinement of COVID has not spared those who count more in this culture than incarcerated people, the elderly and immigrant laborers in the plants. All across the country, instances of domestic violence are on the rise. Depression, anxiety and other mental ills are a brushfire fed by the freshening winds of grief and solitude.
Millions are going without food, and lack basic health care because their insurance was tied to their employment, and that employment has come to an end. More than 36 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, while many low-wage laborers face the choice between destitution and infection. They are called “heroes” in the media, but that label doesn’t pay the rent or put dinner on the table. Food banks across the country are being overwhelmed as people stand in line for hours to receive whatever assistance is available.
It is all entirely overwhelming, a gorging of horror and woe with no true end in sight. There is no leadership to speak of from the federal government. Trump has declared victory and washed his hands of the crisis, leaving state and local governments to fend for themselves as he attempts to cheerlead a reluctant country into a breakneck “reopening” schedule that will — by the White House’s own numbers — cause thousands of additional deaths in the coming weeks and months.
In this maelstrom of dread and slow-rolling agony, amid the ceaseless screaming din of dark tidings and bleak conflict, we must pause to remember the dead.
No one can be blamed for pushing the mortal victims of this calamity to the back rooms of the mind, because it is almost entirely too much to encompass. The U.S. will surpass 100,000 deaths before June if the pattern holds, and there is no earthly reason to believe that pattern will change.
100,000 dead since the New Year, and that number is almost certainly an undercount. Combine the death tolls from Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City, September 11, and the number of U.S. shooting victims from 2019, and you still fall far short of the butcher’s bill from COVID-19, and the butcher is not nearly finished with us.
With so many of the living doing everything they can simply to hold on by their fingernails, it is easy enough to understand why the incalculable enormity of the agony represented by that six-digit figure is too much to focus on for long.
But when Miguel Moran of Long Island died of COVID, his son Daniel was at his bedside. Eight days later, Daniel was also dead from COVID. Miguel was 56, and Daniel was 23.
Ruben Burks of Flint, Michigan, was a labor activist and community organizer who spent his retirement protesting the poisoned water supply in his city. He was 86 when COVID took him.
Barbara Birchenough of Midland Park, New Jersey, was a nurse for 46 years. She was days away from retirement when she contracted COVID and died in the same hospital where she once helped others. She was 65 years old.
Leilani Jordan of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was a grocery clerk with cerebral palsy who continued to work so she could help the store’s elderly customers. She was 27 when the virus took her life.
Rolando Aravena of New Windsor, New York, was taken by COVID on his twin daughters’ tenth birthday. He was 44 years old.
Conrad Buchanan of Fort Myers, Florida, died alone in quarantine in the hospital at age 39. His family never got to say goodbye.
Alfredo and Susana Pabatao of Palisades Park, New Jersey, were both health care workers who had been married for 44 years. They both died of COVID a few days apart in separate hospital rooms. He was 68 and she was 64.
There are nearly 100,000 stories like this now, with far too many more to come.
We must remember the lost, and not let their passing become another body count like all the other ones this nation has grown far too accustomed to ignoring.
We are in sorrow. We are in pain. We are alive, and they are not. Amid the agony and fear, we must remember them.