A Tale of Two Pandemics: March vs. November

I’ve been reading accounts from doctors and hospitals about just how bad things are getting in many parts of the US (and the world), and it struck me today how stark a difference this November is compared to what we were looking at in March, and how that might affect our December, January, and February.

When the pandemic first really started ballooning out of control, there was a lot of panic. There were tons of unknowns, and so people responded as if it was the end of the world. Or at least the end of the toilet paper supply chain, in any case. Did we over-react in March? Well, yeah. Justifiably so, I’d say. The stories coming out of Italy and New York City were so bleak. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen across the rest of the world. Remember what that felt like?

Compare that to today, where a lot of people are convinced the pandemic was just a big hoax, or at the least overblown. Where masks are viewed by many as more of a political theater as opposed to an actual safety measure. Where we’ve had plenty of time to acclimate ourselves to the concept that many people will die, and suddenly deaths are relative.

(I can’t imagine using the same rhetoric people use to dismiss COVID deaths to dismiss other events in history. 9/11 killed around 3,000 people. It affected just a couple of passenger planes. By COVID reasoning, we shouldn’t be worried about that at all. After all, way more people die of heart attacks or the seasonal flu. World War II? 85 million people. So what? That’s only about 14 million deaths per year. There are 40 million abortions every year, give or take.)

Now consider that on April 1st, the US had had 209,692 cases of COVID identified. We’d had 6,476 deaths. Total. (Even a month later, we were still “only” up to 67,229.) Italy? They’d had 110,559 cases and 13,195 deaths. Those were the numbers when so many people in the nation and the world were feeling hopeless and grim.

Compare those numbers to today. The US is averaging 1,170 deaths per day. We’ve had over 250,000 total. Italy is averaging 569 deaths. Its peak was 817 per day. Granted, those are across the entire country as opposed to isolated areas, but the trajectory is exactly the same.

Remember all the people cheering for the hospital workers on their way back from their shifts each day? These days, I don’t see nearly the same sort of respect for those people. Instead, I see more disdain for the demands people wear a mask. I see more dithering about the “right to not wear a mask.”

We can know with a fair degree of certainty how many people who get COVID in the US today will die in three weeks. 1.8%. Right now we’re averaging 158,000 cases per day in America. While our current death rate is 1,170/day, three weeks from now it will be around 2,844. (You can see all the math at the link I posted there.) That’s baked in. Statistically, those deaths have already happened, as bleak as it feels to say that. Our peak so far has been 2,259 deaths per day on average. So we’re going to blow right by that, no matter what we do. And it will get much much worse unless we all start really taking it seriously.

But look around. I just don’t see anyone taking it more seriously than they’re taking it right now. Not before Thanksgiving, at least. There will come a tipping point. There has to, right? A point where finally we as a country recognize this for what it is. But I’ve been reading both CNN and Fox News regularly since the election, just to see how two sides of the country might be viewing what we’re going through. CNN gives a fair bit of credence to this. Fox, much less. They’re much more concerned with Trump’s rallies, his legal challenges to the election, and what might happen in Georgia. Yes, they cover the vaccine news, but it’s presented in a “the cure is almost here” light.

I don’t want to take hope away from anyone, and I am very happy good vaccines are in the pipeline. But that’s all the more reason to take the next few months as seriously as we can. The pandemic is running on a big portion of individual exceptionalism right now. The thought that if I do something different, it’s not a big deal, because it’s just me. I can decide to not wear a mask or go to a party or have a Thanksgiving dinner with “just a few other families,” and it’s going to be fine. But you take that approach and magnify it millions of times, and you’ve got serious problems.

In so many ways, our past determines our future. I understand why people aren’t taking COVID as seriously now. It’s more familiar. It’s been around, and so it doesn’t seem as scary. But the numbers we’re facing now would have shocked us into much more action eight months ago. I’m hoping they spur us to more action today sooner rather than later.


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