The bells at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., tolled 500 times Monday afternoon. Each ringing note memorialized the death of 1,000 Americans caused by COVID-19. The pandemic that began around this time last year has now claimed more than half-a-million lives in the United States, an almost unthinkable total.
Of those 500,000 deaths, 2,274 have occurred in West Virginia, according to the most recent statistics released Tuesday morning by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. It’s a seemingly small number when viewing the national picture. However, when the state’s relatively small population is taken into account, the death rate tracks more or less in step with surrounding states.
As President Joe Biden noted in a memorial service Monday, the pandemic has now killed more Americans than World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. The only armed conflict with more casualties was the Civil War, during which about 620,000 soldiers died.
Of course, this is no war, at least not in the conventional sense. It feels like it sometimes, especially when looking at images of exhausted health care workers trying to save those in overcrowded hospitals. Fellow Americans are losing their lives to microbes traveling in the air that prove just as lethal as any military adversary with a rifle.
Thanks to vaccines and, finally, an organized, unified response, the virus appears to be slowing. Still, over the past week, nearly 2,000 Americans died every day from COVID-19, and vaccines will be put to a tougher test as variant strains of the virus are now spreading throughout the country.
After one of the most trying years in U.S. history, there is a natural inclination to look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s nothing wrong with that. Hope is an important and powerful thing. Dwelling on what has already occurred, as tragic as it is, can be morbid, a feeling amplified by knowing nothing can be done now to bring back those who died.
But, when the pandemic is at some sort of end, the United States must look back and not only remember, but study the tragedy, so that nothing like this, along with all the mistakes that were made when such a massive loss of life could have been avoided or lessened, ever happens again. If history isn’t preserved in the proper context and examined, it is almost certain to repeat itself one day.
Americans must remember so that all of this death, all of the strife, the economic hardships, and everything else that has come with the pandemic, won’t be for nothing. Ensuring the country moves forward collectively wiser is the best way to honor those 500,000, and the names that are still being added to the list every day.