March 2021Policy

500,000: COVID-19 by the numbers

On February 23, the death toll in the United States from the COVID-19 pandemic hit the grim milestone of 500,000. That’s by far the highest death toll of any country, more than twice that of number two, Brazil.

As the pandemic nears its one-year anniversary, vaccines are being administered to millions of Americans, albeit haphazardly, with demand far outstripping supply and the currently eligible populations — in most places, healthcare workers and seniors — enduring frustrating attempts to sign up online or by telephone only to find all available appointments have been filled. To no one’s surprise, people of color and those with lower incomes are being vaccinated at a lower rate than affluent whites, in large part because fewer of them have the reliable internet connections that give applicants a leg up. And these are the people most endangered by the pandemic due to their higher rate of pre-existing conditions and shakier access to health care.

Still, at least vaccinations are taking place and, under the Biden administration, there is now an attempt to address the pandemic on a scientific basis; a stark contrast to the Trump administration’s combination of obstruction, wishful thinking and negligence. COVID-19 would have exacted a severe toll under any presidential leadership, but Trump’s sometimes deliberate mismanagement of the crisis inflated the infection and death numbers. It will never be known how different the pandemic would have been for Americans under competent, caring leadership, but it is beyond doubt that Trump was one of the worst presidents imaginable for any national crisis.

In the January issue of the Socialist I made a number of comparisons to make the death toll more real and less an abstract statistic. The Washington Post, as the fatality total neared the half-million mark, offered a striking metaphor: If 500,000 people traveled by bus, the caravan would stretch 94.7 miles, or all the way from Philadelphia to New York City.

Here are some more comparisons. 500,000 deaths is equivalent to:

Here’s hoping this is the last milestone we need to mark in the current pandemic — and that by the time the next pandemic rolls around (and it will) our achievement of Medicare for All will blunt its impact.

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