A 'Momentous and Tragic' Moment as U.S. Surpasses 100,000 COVID-19 Deaths | Sojourners

A 'Momentous and Tragic' Moment as U.S. Surpasses 100,000 COVID-19 Deaths

The United States surpassed 100,000 deaths related to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday.

It’s a staggering number representing nearly a third of the 353,011 COVID-related deaths worldwide. In the U.S., more Americans have died of the virus than in the Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Gulf wars combined.

On Sunday, The New York Times paid tribute by filling the front page of the paper with the names of 1,000 Americans who have died of the virus, representing just a fraction of recorded deaths nationwide. Details of their lives were pulled from obituaries run by local newspapers and digital publications across the country. “None were mere numbers,” the Times wrote.

Perry Buchalter, 63, Florida, quiet hero.

Torrin Jamal Howard, 26, Waterbury Conn., gentle giant, athlete and musician.

Carol Sue Rubin, 69, West Bloomfield, Mich., loved travel, mahjong and crossword puzzles.

Yet the day after The New York Times ran it’s somber cover, thousands of Americans packed beaches, boardwalks, and swimming pools to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. In a now viral photo, people donning bathing suits disregarded social distancing advisories and masks to share drinks in a pool at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

“It’s irresponsible and dangerous to engage in such high risk behavior just to have some fun over the extended holiday weekend,” the mayor of St. Louis, Lyda Krewson, said in a statement following the incident.

St. Louis County issued a travel advisory and urged those who were at the Lake of Ozarks to quarantine for 14 days.

Yet despite officials pleas for people to venture out with an abundance of caution, state reopenings have prompted a sensed social end to the pandemic.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) shared plans earlier this week to begin reopening D.C. and northern Virginia on Friday.

“The virus clearly is still here, but overall the numbers are trending in the right direction,” Northam said on Tuesday despite Virginia reporting a spike in new cases in the D.C. suburbs that day. As of Wednesday, the District, Maryland and Virginia had collectively reported 97,078 cases of the virus.

President Trump has been a vocal supporter of reopening the country. On Sunday, he tweeted that schools “should be opened ASAP,” despite a USA Today/Ipsos poll revealing that 1 in 5 teachers would be unlikely to return to the classroom this fall should schools reopen. The week prior he called for places of worship to reopen, naming houses of worship “essential” and warning to override state orders should governors choose not to abide by his administration’s new guidance.

Trump’s push has alarmed leading experts who warn reopening could ignite further outbreaks of the virus.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a senate hearing earlier this month.

On Wednesday, California became the fourth state to reach 100,000 cases of the virus following in the footsteps of Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. The virus has only begun to lay siege in rural parts of the South and Midwest America with dangerous surges appearing in counties with tightly packed industry workers, limited health services and high poverty.

Without an end in sight, the collective inability to comprehend the sheer enormity of deaths compounds.

“Imagine a city of 100,000 residents that was here for New Year’s Day but has now been wiped from the American map,” The New York Times wrote.

San Angelo, Texas.

Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Vacaville, California.

Communal grief is not only part of the national identity, but a key tenant of religious traditions. 

On Wednesday, more than 100 faith leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions called for June 1 to be observed as a National Day of Mourning and Lament, “a time marked by moments of silence, lowering of flags, interfaith vigils and prayers, ringing of bells, and civic memorials.”

The call is being supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, composed of more than 1,400 mayors across the country.

“This momentous and tragic 100,000 marker will not be an empty data point on death’s grim graph,” the call reads. “We will remember those whom we loved and pray for both healing and hope — for our nation and the world.”

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