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Woster: I hope we can make considerate choices for those around us

For most of us, COVID deaths, like the new cases, the hospitalizations and so on, are numbers on a chart, unless they affect us personally.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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At some point during the past week, the country’s death count from COVID-19 reached 1 million.

That’s an almost inconceivable number in a nation with access to the latest, finest and newest of medical equipment, procedures and personnel. And the deaths continue to rise. In spite of rapidly developed vaccines and treatments, the deaths continue to mount. I couldn’t have imagined this.

It’s been a little more than two years since the first official COVID death was announced. I remember when this pandemic was being compared with the Spanish Flu of 1918. I believe that resulted in something under 700,000 deaths in the United States. With COVID, we’ve averaged nearly 500,000 deaths a year, 40,000 or so a month. That’s a staggering statistic.

Out here in flyover country, South Dakota has something like 3,000 deaths. That’s the equivalent of 20- or 30-years’ worth of highway crash fatalities.

The state issues a news release every time someone dies in a highway crash in South Dakota. Eventually, each highway crash fatality is identified publicly. COVID deaths aren’t handled in quite so public a manner. It would be impractical, I suppose, to try to publicly identify each death from the virus. For most of us, the deaths, like the new cases, the hospitalizations and so on, are numbers on a chart, unless they affect us personally.

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They aren’t numbers then, though, are they? Each victim had people who cared for them and whose lives will never be the same without them. Those left behind will learn to adjust. They’ll find ways to move on, to go on living. But there will always be a blank spot deep inside of them that once was perhaps the most vibrant, wonderful part of their world.

I read a story in which the head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the medical school at the University of Washington reflected on the COVID death toll in the United States. Dr. Christopher Murray is quoted as saying that, while the grim milestone has been approaching for some time, “the fact that so many have died is still appalling.’’

And, he said, the death count will continue to rise. “This is far from over,’’ Murray said. Elsewhere I saw that, while the rate of deaths from the virus is falling, about 360 people a day are still dying from COVID in this country.

I get it that we can’t stay on high alert forever. When the military is called to a DEFCON 4 (I don’t know what that actually means, I saw it in a movie) it can’t remain there indefinitely, not without major adjustments to how the military functions. Same with all of us in this pandemic. And it still is a pandemic, with 360 people a day dying.

I can see that we have made adjustments, most of us in this country, to one degree or another. Early on, most people scrambled to protect themselves and other. Masks,
social distancing, whatever was suggested, a lot of us tried to do. Over time, people began to make their own decisions on how much care they were willing to take, along with how much risk they were willing to accept.

Nancy and I have been relatively vigilant, although we’ve relaxed our guard a lot over the time the virus has been around. It was well into the pandemic before we had our first actual exposure or close contact with someone positive for COVID. We tested negative and were much relieved. Just a couple of months ago, we each tested positive. Our symptoms were mild and quickly gone — unless they return in one of those long COVID situations.

We attended a couple of plays in Minneapolis not so long ago. Everyone in each setting wore a mask and carried proof of vaccination status or recent negative test results. The venues required those things. The attendees made the choice to comply.

I guess that’s how we’ll proceed for the foreseeable future. We will assess our risks and make our individual choices. I hope that when we make our choices, we consider the needs and concerns of those around us. Too many people have died.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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