The count of Americans who have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic's beginning continues to be more muddled than one might expect, but NBC News reports that by their count, the nation has just topped 800,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. The New York Times count will have us passing that total within a few days; other data suggests we passed that mark some time ago.
That's the highest death toll in the world, and it is absolutely certain to be an undercount. Some states are not as eager to share their statistics as others; in some regions, deaths from "pneumonia" and similar causes have soared far above pandemic levels even as local officials scoff at suggestions that most of those deaths were likely undiagnosed or misreported COVID-19 deaths.
Here's another milestone: One in every 100 Americans 65 years old or older has now died from the virus—three in every four pandemic deaths has been in that age group. That still leaves 200,000 Americans in other age groups—a number that should be devastating on its own. We passed the mark where one in every 500 Americans had died of the virus last September.
That might go a long way towards explaining why hospital workers are quitting in droves. Those are wartime numbers, and will drive the same traumas that medical workers face in any other war. In the early days of the pandemic we called them heroes and feted them with parades; in more recent days, the job more typically involves explaining to families who never "believed" in the virus to begin with that their loved one is dying of the thing they claimed would never harm them.
While NBC News cites Dr. Vin Gupta to note that the death total is almost certain to reach 1 million, that may still be underselling things. Republican politicians and pundits have now rallied to condemn each of the most effective means of containing the pandemic, encouraging their base to thumb their noses at public masking, social distancing, and mandated vaccination. The results speak for themselves: With each new pandemic surge, the virus is spreading most aggressively in Republican counties, the hospitals are still overwhelmed in Republican counties, and Americans are dying mostly in Republican counties.
It's not that we "might" reach 1 million pandemic deaths. Now that Republicanism has declared that those seeking to eradicate the disease are the enemy, spouting slogans like "Don't Fauci My Florida," another 200,000 deaths are assured. At this point the virus will only stop rampaging through the Fox News audience when their viewership reaches "herd immunity" the hard way.
We have decent guess as to how many Americans have been killed by pandemic misinformation. An estimated 160,000 pandemic deaths could have been prevented just in the last six months, just from universal vaccination. Vaccines are now widely available, they're still free, and if the nation had a bit more spine we'd have repurposed ice cream trucks rolling around neighborhoods offering shots and $100 bills to anyone still holding out.
Masking is even more "controversial," because it is an action solely dependent on an American's will to do the literal bare possible minimum to protect their neighbors. It is even easier than sending someone thoughts and prayers; you wear a simple cloth over your mouth and nose whenever pandemic sickness is surging through local hospitals at an intolerable rate and you have a very good chance of saving somebody else's life. No, not by shooting off your gun. No, not by bravely standing in front of someone else who's shooting off their gun. Not by jumping in front of a moving car, not by racing into a burning house—it's just a mask. As it turns out a great many Americans do not give a flying damn about saving someone's life if doing so is boring.
I don't know what I'm supposed to say here. Yes, it's another six-figure pandemic milestone, but it's one that will be inconsequential in both directions six months from now. The United States only reached the half-million mark through astonishing, blazing incompetence on a scale seldom witnessed—800,000 should have been a fantastical number. A twentieth of that was supposed to be a fantastical number.
In another six months, we're more likely to hit 1 million deaths than not, and nobody will remember the 800,000 mark because it was just so bloody obvious at the time that higher numbers would be coming. Republican elected officials, conservative disinformation centers, and the Murdoch family have unified in attempts to discredit pandemic measures as they discredited our democracy; another quarter million deaths will make no impact on them.
Will it at any point make a difference to the families who believed them? Will there be anger over the deaths that could have been prevented not just by a modern medical miracle, but by simple strips of cloth? It's not likely. How could anyone live with themselves after realizing that their family members or friends died for the sake of a prank undertaken by the faces on their TVs?