We owe the 1 million dead from COVID an answer: Did we really do all we could to help?

·3 min read

One million people.

Our people. Americans.

One million Americans lost to COVID-19.

It’s a figure almost impossible to fathom. It’s too big. An abstraction.

The human mind – or maybe the soul – isn’t designed to process that much loss. Children, brothers, mothers, uncles, grandparents, fathers, sisters, aunts.

Gone.

One million of them. Gone, in about two years and five months. In a fragment of time.

It’s too much.

President Joe Biden's remarks on 1 million COVID deaths.
President Joe Biden's remarks on 1 million COVID deaths.

So we look for context. Six states – Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware – have populations of about 1 million or less. The deaths from this virus are like an entire U.S. state getting wiped out.

It’s unreal.

The pandemic has worn us numb. The numbers seem like numbers, nothing else.

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But we all know someone who lost someone. And the connections to those 1 million souls lost – the friends, the loved ones, the coworkers – spread out like a web across the nation, each thread a strand of grief.

Too many strands. Too much grief.

Too much.

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It seems we owe them something, right? While we sit here trying to process this moment, while we try to reckon with it, try to move on with our lives while remembering theirs, it seems we owe them … something.

Maybe we owe them a good hard at look at ourselves. Maybe we owe them some answers.

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A security worker stands by sign reminding travelers to wear face masks at Amsterdam Schiphol airport on December 2, 2021 in the Netherlands.
A security worker stands by sign reminding travelers to wear face masks at Amsterdam Schiphol airport on December 2, 2021 in the Netherlands.

Did I do everything I could to help during this pandemic? Or did I make things worse?

Did I wear a mask around others to protect them? Or did I not believe in them, as if a public health precaution was my call to make?

Did I get out over my skis? Did I question science without really understanding it?

Did I stop to think that me not wearing a mask, regardless of whether I thought it effective or not, might have made people around me uncomfortable during a time when everyone – and I mean everyone – was dealing with unprecedented stress?

Did I think just about myself? Did I let my politics bleed into my decisions? Did I grasp at whatever theory I could find that told me I was right?

Did I get vaccinated? Did I complain about a lifesaving vaccine or mock the scientists who developed it in near-miraculous time? Did I let my judgment get clouded by others? Was I afraid doing the right thing might make me look weak?

Did I do everything I could to keep us from reaching 1 million deaths?

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We owe the Americans we’ve lost – an entire state worth of Americans, enough Americans to stretch near halfway across the country – those answers.

We don’t need to shout them out. Nobody on this mortal plane needs to hear the answers.

But those who are gone do.

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Wearing masks at the Philadelphia airport on April 19, 2022.
Wearing masks at the Philadelphia airport on April 19, 2022.

Every one of us, every person blessed to still be breathing, needs to answer those questions in some quiet moment of reflection.

Because another time may come when a bit of self-sacrifice and national unity is needed. Another time may come when lives are lost because people can’t collectively do what’s right.

We lost 1 million people this time.

We should look inward, steel ourselves to the truth and swear on the lives we’ve lost that we will never, ever let it happen so easily again.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on Twitter @RexHuppke and Facebook: facebook.com/RexIsAJerk

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As America hits 1 million COVID deaths, self-reflection is needed

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