As vaccines offer hope throughout the United States, the death toll from COVID-19 climbs to new milestones of loss as the country approaches the 500,000 marker, the largest coronavirus death count of any country in the world..
The day before President Joe Biden was sworn into office, the losses topped 400,000.
For former President Donald Trump the virus compromised his reelection hopes, a virus he repeatedly said would, “disappear one day.”
Trump relied in part on what he called his “natural ability,” to attack the virus.
STATE OF THE STATES: NEW YORK
New York was the epicenter of the virus when it first began to hit the United States. By early April in 2020, New York City was overwhelmed by the spread of the disease and loss of life.
In one month, New York state went from a single case on March 1 to more than 83,000 statewide and more than 2,300 dead on April 1. By April’s end, the virus would claim another 16,000 lives statewide.
At a funeral home in Harlem 48 bodies were crammed into a basement , “I don’t want to apologize because I am doing the absolute best I can, but if it’s not good enough, I am sorry,” Funeral Director Lisa Sage Weinrieb told Reuters “Like, deeply sorry,”
It was a scene that played out across the country as the virus spread and the death toll mounted, overwhelming funeral homes, and in many ways radically changing the experience of death and loss.
Nursing homes were regarded by many as death traps. The New York Times reported that more than 163,000 residents and employees of long-term care facilities have died from the coronavirus, about one-third of all virus deaths in the United States. Infections have swept through some 31,000 facilities and nearly all have had to shut down in some way, The New York Times reported.
The spread of COVID-19 in prisons led to death sentences.
In December, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that the COVID-19 mortality rate in prisons was twice as high as for the general population, with four times as many positive cases overall. according to The Guardian.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo prescribed strict lockdowns and called on medical workers throughout the country to help. For weeks New Yorkers stood on the streets to applaud first responders and medical workers. ‘A lot of people have shown a lot of courage and a lot of beauty and they’ve had very tough lives,” Coumo said at a news conference in April. “And let’s appreciate them at the same time,” he said.
But it was a bitter rite for some who had lost family members.
“At 7 PM in New York City everyday, you know, they do a clapping and a cheering for the healthcare workers, but then I can’t help but think what about the ones who are fallen?,” Minnoli Aya whose mother, a health care worker, died from COVID-19. ” What about the ones who are already dead?”
STATE OF THE STATES: TEXAS
In Texas. On March 19, 2020 Governor Greg Abbott signed his first coronavirus-related executive order (GA-08) that signaled the start of the state’s lockdown with a prohibition on social gatherings of more than 10 and mandated the closure of dine-in restaurants, nursing homes, and schools, The Texan reported.
In late April Abbott reversed course letting the restrictions expire.
Water parks and beaches reopened. Restaurants and bars reopened with limited capacity.
By late June Abbott was warning that, “COVID-19 has taken a very swift, and a dangerous turn in Texas, over just the past few weeks. “
At the United Memorial Medical Center , Dr. Joseph Varon issued a warning: “In the next two weeks, we’re probably going to end up being what New York was two months ago,” he said. “And that is going to happen, particularly because we had the Fourth of July holiday, and a lot of people did not listen,” he added.
By January, more than 50 Texas hospitals are currently reporting that their ICUs are 100 percent full or higher, and a dozen of them have been full for more than half of the 24 weeks since hospitals began reporting that information in July, according to a Texas Tribune investigation. That was before the state was slammed by a storm that left millions of people across the state shivering in the dark after a severe winter storm laid siege to Texas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 40,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Texas alone.
STATE OF THE STATES: FLORIDA
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis said he would not bow to pressure to issue statewide mandates on wearing masks, opting to leave that decision to local municipalities.
One man took to the beach dressed as the grim reaper. Another beachgoer in July dismissed the pandemic. “To be completely honest, I think it’s a bunch of bullshit.”
Dr. Mark Supino at Jackson Memorial Hospital told Reuters it was a case of bad messaging leading to deadly results. “And I do feel that the reticence to embrace sort of a position of wearing masks and sort of protecting everyone is a coping mechanism,” he said. But he held out hope. ‘Maybe we can get people to change their outlook and find a different coping mechanism that gets everyone aligned, ” he said. Adding, “So I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t been able to modify that situation.”
In Florida, more than 29,000 have died from COVID, according the CDC.
STATE OF THE STATES
As state’ largely battled COVID on their own terms some events lead to massive outbreaks throughout the country.
Hundreds of thousands of people attended the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, from Aug. 7 to 16. The South Dakota health department said 105 cases had been traced to the event.
In early October it was the White House that took center stage, when President Trump contracted COVID. After a three-night hospital stay — he returned to the White House, climbing up the stairs of the White House South Portico, where he removed his mask, and posed for pictures, waving, saluting and giving thumbs-up signs.
Trump continued to play down the disease.
Trump has repeatedly flouted social-distancing guidelines meant to curb the virus’ spread. He also mocked Biden at a presidential debate for wearing a mask at events, even when he is far from others.
By later October Trump was back on the campaign trail, “All you hear covid, covid, covid, covid, covid covid covid, covid, covid, covid, covid. That’s all they put on because they want to scare the hell out of everyone.”
For many other American’s faced with COVID there was little relief. Tammy Benewiat had to watch her husband’s treatment from a window in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“It’s hard. Looking through windows. It’s nothing you really want to you want to do in life. Just look through a window, it’s hard,” she told Reuters.
Meanwhile,Trump offered assurances, telling supporters in Tampa Florida, .” If I can get better, anybody can get better. And I got better fast.”
Medical workers had a very different message. A nurse at Indiana University Health said while she might not understand the mounting numbers in the COVID death tolls she understands, “the sound that a zipper on a body bag makes.” she added, “I can describe with great detail the odd and very ugly color of purplish gray you turn when your body is suffocating.”
Still, even as the death toll mounted nationwide, there was resistance. Thomas Crandell, a retired Saw Mill worker in West Virginia wasn’t buying it. “I think sometimes that thing (a COVID vaccine) might be a hoax and I don’t think I’d even fool with it because I don’t know one soul that has this (coronavirus),” he told Reuters.
Overwhelmed Funeral workers, continued to struggle. At the Cypress Lawn Cemetery in California, Alexandra Petrini told Reuters they were all “just trying to do the best we can and navigate through this the best we know how..”
On January 20th, Joe Biden was sworn in as the President of the United States. He held a ceremony on the National Mall for those lost, telling Americans “To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal.”
And the losses continued. People learned to say goodbye on Zoom calls. A 77-year old COVID patient in Oklahoma City issued a warning from her hospital bed. “Pay attention to yourself. And pay attention to those around you. If they are not doing what they should be doing, stay away from them. And don’t count on that six foot apart bit. You run the other way.”
Just days after Biden’s inauguration Anthony Fauci now secure in his position heading the National Institute on Allergenic and Infectious Diseases spoke of what America lost. “There was a considerable amount of mixed messaging about what needed to be done from the top down. And that really cost us dearly,” Fauci said.
But while the scramble continues to administer the vaccine in the United States, some now find grace notes in hope.
(Production: Deborah Lutterbeck)