Thursday, November 19, 2020

250,000

Remember when we thought that 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 was beyond comprehension and the idea that we would see a quarter of a million before the end of the year was unfathomable?  We’re there, and yet we as a nation can’t seem to grasp what has happened.

Most everybody in town knows that Gladys Maull has been battered this year: Her father, her sister, an aunt, a great-aunt, all dead from covid-19. Maull keeps a sign on her front door: “Please do not come in my house due to covid-19. Thank you.”

Some people just step on in, maskless.

They mean no harm, but masks never caught on in rural Lowndes County, which has Alabama’s highest rate of coronavirus infections. In a place that gave 73 percent of its vote to Joe Biden, the sheriff and the coroner agree that although cases are spiking and deaths are rising, most people share President Trump’s view that masks are a matter of personal choice and that the end of the pandemic is just around the corner.

“I don’t see people taking it seriously enough,” Maull said. “They still have their yard parties, yard cookouts. They’re back inside the church. This is just too much.”

From the start of the pandemic, public health officials and many political leaders hoped that covid’s frightening lethality — the death toll will hit 250,000 this week — might unite the country in common cause against the virus’s spread.

But the nation’s deep divisions — political and cultural — as well as the virus’s concentrated impact on crowded urban areas in the early months, set the country on a different path.

Now, more than eight months into a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, it has become clear that although close experiences with covid-19 do change some people’s attitudes, many Americans stick to their original notions, no matter what sorrows they’ve seen, no matter where they live.

Maybe it’s because out of a nation with a population of over 328 million, 250,000 doesn’t seem like a big number; chances are they don’t know anyone who has died from it, or if they do, they were old, sick, or out of some sense of cruelty, don’t care.

The one person who has the power and has had it all along to mitigate the pandemic is rage-tweeting about the election he lost by a bigger margin than he won it four years ago; by his own definition, a landslide.

I am reminded every day of the impact of this pandemic.  At work, in the grants that I manage, the kids I see trooping to class in masks and reminded to keep their distance, in the closed theatres and shops and changes to everyday life that we have come to accept.

And I am reminded every time I call my mom, now a widow, and the memories of my father who slept away in May and the words “Covid-19” on the death certificate.

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