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How should we honor and mourn those we have lost to Covid?

As of Thursday, the number of known deaths from Covid-19 in the United States surpassed one million.

How are we to understand and reckon with this staggering death toll and immeasurable grief? What do you mean a million dead?

In How America Lost One Million People, Jeremy White, Amy Harmon, Danielle Ivory, Lauren Leatherby, Albert Sun and Sarah Almukhtar grapple with the gravity and importance of this tragic milestone. First, scroll through the opening interaction until you get to the United States map. Then read the excerpt from the following piece:

The extent of the country’s loss is hard to grasp.

More Americans have died from Covid-19 than in two decades from car accidents or on battlefields in all of the country’s wars combined.

Experts say deaths from a new virus of this severity and transmissibility were all but inevitable. Still, one million dead is a staggering number even for a country the size of the United States, and the true number is almost certainly higher due to undercounting.

It’s the result of many factors, including elected officials who have downplayed the coronavirus threat and defied security measures; a decentralized, overburdened healthcare system struggling with testing, tracking and treatment; and lower vaccination and refresher rates than other rich countries, partly the result of widespread distrust and opposition fueled by right-wing media and politicians.

The virus did not claim lives uniformly or randomly. The New York Times analyzed 25 months of data on deaths during the pandemic and found that some demographics, occupations and communities were far more vulnerable than others. A significant proportion of the country’s oldest residents died, accounting for about three quarters of all deaths. And among younger adults across the country, blacks and Hispanics died at a much higher rate than whites.

Understanding the toll – who makes up the one million and how the country has failed them – is crucial during the pandemic. More than 300 people are still dying of Covid every day.

“We’re a country with the best doctors in the world, we got a vaccine in an amazingly short amount of time, and yet we’ve had so many deaths,” said Mary T. Bassett, New York State Health Commissioner.

“It really should be a moment for all of us to think about what kind of society we want to be,” she added.

The tragic number of Covid-19 only hints at the suffering of millions more Americans mourning the loss of loved ones. In The Lost Americans, Julie Bosman poignantly profiles some of the people who have lost family members, spouses and friends and are grieving in a nation that wants to move on:

A North Carolina widow whose husband died of Covid-19 is feeling devastated over hearing people casually talk about the return of life in America. I’ll never be normal again, she thinks to herself. I still feel like I’m missing a limb.

A New York City man who lost his wife to Covid reflects on the days before she fell ill two years ago. Worried that he brought the virus into her apartment, he wonders if her death was his fault and asks the unanswerable: why did he survive Covid but not her?

A Minnesota woman whose mother died from the coronavirus is mired in what she calls “Covid grief.” It deepens when she sees the pandemic mentioned on Facebook, when someone says how lucky they are to be back with loved ones when she’s forced to listen to the babble about masks or politics or vaccines.

“There’s a memory of her dying, literally every single day, multiple times a day,” said Erin Reiner, whose mother, Gwen Wilson, was a bowling and quilting champion in Kansas until her death at age 72.

For more than two years, Americans have been weaving their way through a pandemic that has upended plans, brought turmoil and despair, and sickened millions.

But one group was forced down a separate path. These are the loved ones of the nearly one million people in the United States who have now died from Covid-19, a catastrophic number that reflects a death toll higher than almost any other affluent country.

These families have walked a path of isolation, sadness and anger. They carry a grief that feels lonely, enduring, and excruciatingly removed from the country’s journey together.

Students, read the rest of one or both articles, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the staggering Covid death toll? What thoughts and feelings does this tragic milestone provoke in you?

  • How touched and moved are you by reading the stories of people who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, recorded by Ms Bosman? Do any of the stories match your own experiences and feelings?

  • “We’re a country with the best doctors in the world, we got a vaccine in an amazingly short amount of time, and yet we’ve had so many deaths,” New York State Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett said of the tragic milestone. She added, “It really should be a moment for all of us to think about what kind of society we want to have.” How would you react to her perspective? How has the pandemic and the extraordinary loss of life affected your opinion of American society?

  • The Times writes that some demographics, occupations, and communities, such as the country’s oldest residents and blacks and Hispanics, were far more vulnerable than others. What makes you think or feel? What does that say about our nation?

  • What is the significance of noting these tragic milestones? Do you think the United States adequately acknowledged and anticipated this national tragedy? Why or why not? How else could we as a nation commemorate and mourn the one million lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic?

  • In what ways, if at all, have you and your community recognized the toll of the pandemic? What else do you think you could do?

  • Loss is very personal, so please only share your experience if you feel comfortable. If you or your family have lost a loved one to Covid, you can use this space to share about that person. Tell us what this person was most passionate about or what you miss most about your loved one.

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