Chicago Sun-Times

Pondering the latest somber numbers on COVID-19’s toll

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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. 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 the world’s richest 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.

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