Can you put the United States death toll from Covid-19 into context?

Data and Metrics Social and Racial Justice

A: More than 200,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid-19.

Counting does not do justice to the memory of each individual lost or the societal impact on our communities. Putting this huge number into context depends upon how we frame this mass casualty, our personal biases, and our proximity to death.

Coronavirus is one of the largest mass casualty events in history with disproportionate deaths in the United States. The US accounts for roughly 4% of the global population and 21% of Covid-19 deaths. Covid-19 now surpasses the death toll of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, World War 1, Vietnam, and the Korean War. The number is big, will only get bigger, and we are only 9 months into this pandemic. There are many things we can do to reduce this number if we choose.

The death of people who are Black and Hispanic, older, obese, or chronically ill in the US is not justifiable. Action to date and public recognition of the profound loss of life has been stunted in the US likely due to deeply rooted racism, ableism, and ageism in our society. The death of a young, white physician is commonly met with public outcry while the more common loss of black professionals in a variety of essential sectors is invisible to many. Ableism (discrimination based on the perception of ability) and ageism (discrimination based on the perception of age) are two additional systemic biases present in the US that consciously and unconsciously cause us to place additional value on certain lives. Discounting the lives of older people and minorities to preserve the daily routines of some is dangerous, intimately linked, and costly to society.

People who have lost a loved one or interact with communities suffering numerous losses are more likely to feel the immediate and long-term effects of cumulative deaths. It can be hard to grasp the death toll if you haven’t personally experienced loss. Simultaneously, the weight of loss can be crushing for friends and family, caregivers, and professionals across a number of industries who interact with the departed and their loved ones.

Every one of us has the capacity to contribute as we face this awful tragedy. Be kind, be aware of your biases, and stay SMART.

Additional Reading:

Death toll of Covid-19 in the context of other historic events

Deaths in the US

Racism, Ageism, and Ableism


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