Pondering the latest numbers on COVID-19

The U.S. is fast approaching 1 million COVID-19 deaths, and 15 million more people died during the pandemic than would have been expected during normal times.

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Activists gather during a vigil in Lafayette Park for nurses who died during the COVID-19 pandemic on Jan. 13 in Washington, D.C.

Activists gather on Jan. 13 in Washington, D.C., during a vigil in Lafayette Park for nurses who died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Ask among your social circle, and it’s more than likely that nearly every one of those individuals has been touched in some way by the fast-approaching somber milestone of 1 million U.S. deaths from COVID-19.

As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recorded 994,187 deaths from COVID-19. Just over 800 deaths per day are now being reported, and at that rate, the U.S. is likely to reach 1 million COVID fatalities in the coming days.

Every one of those victims left behind grieving family, close friends, neighbors, acquaintances, work colleagues. The lingering emotional toll of COVID will be felt for years.

It didn’t have to be like this.

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Approximately 234,000 COVID-19 deaths since June 2021 — when vaccines became widely available — could have been prevented in the U.S. by more widespread vaccination, an analysis by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation found.

The United States is a rich nation, but the pandemic didn’t spare us. Politics, denial, conspiracy theories, misinformation, faith in quack cures over established science and lack of preparedness all played a role in bringing us to this tragic point.

The World Health Organization reported last week that excess mortality soared during the first two years of the pandemic: Between January 2020 and December 2021, almost 15 million more people died worldwide than would have been expected. Most of those deaths were from COVID-19, but some people died because of health conditions that went untreated as hospitals and health care workers were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“Among high-income countries, the United States did the worst in terms of excess death rate,” Steven H. Woolf of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, told the Washington Post. “We have experienced disproportionately high excess death rates because of the way we handled the pandemic.”

We should all keep that in mind, as new infections and the risk of transmission inch up. Public health officials in Chicago now “strongly recommend” wearing masks indoors, especially by older people and the immune-compromised.

There’s no reason for alarm, as health officials were quick to say last week, noting that hospitalizations and deaths remain low.

But there is reason for caution and common sense.

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