The COVID-19 pandemic has now killed more Americans than the 1918 Spanish flu, based on the official death count from COVID-19 compared to the estimated fatalities from the 1918 pandemic. As reported by Berkeley Lovelace, Jr., for CNBC:
Covid-19 is officially the most deadly outbreak in recent American history, surpassing the estimated U.S. fatalities from the 1918 influenza pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Reported U.S. deaths due to Covid crossed 675,000 on Monday, and are rising at an average of more than 1,900 fatalities per day, Johns Hopkins data shows. The nation is currently experiencing yet another wave of new infections, fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant.
The 1918 flu – which came in three waves, occurring in the spring of 1918, the fall of 1918; and the winter and spring of 1919 – killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention. It was considered America’s most lethal pandemic in recent history up until now.
A substantial percentage of those deaths were due to the gross mishandling of the pandemic by former president Donald Trump, members of his administration, and various elected Republicans at the state and federal level who internalized, adopted, and promoted his policies. According to Reuters, a series of studies released by the Brookings Institution when the death toll was 540,000 in this country estimated that deaths due to Trump and his GOP allies’ botched response numbered as many as 400,000. A Lancet study released earlier had indicated 40% of COVID deaths in the U.S. could have been avoided, assuming that U.S. death rates corresponded to those in other G7 countries. As reported by the Daily Beast’s Jennifer Adams at that time:
A string of research papers released this week at a Brookings Institution conference say that the U.S. could have saved billions of dollars and nearly 400,000 lives if it had responded more effectively to COVID-19 with a coherent strategy in the first few months of the pandemic, Reuters reports. UCLA economics professor Andrew Atkeson concluded that if the U.S. had mandated mask-wearing and social distancing and established testing protocols by the end of last May, the country’s COVID-19 deaths could have remained under 300,000. So far, more than 540,000 Americans have died on account of the virus, and Atkeson estimated that the total death toll will ultimately be close to 670,000. He added that without a vaccine that number would be close to 1.27 million.
The human cost of this abominable example of willful malfeasance and callous, self-serving disregard is incalculable. The number of lives lost and families ruined simply because Trump prioritized his reelection prospects over a massive, lethal threat to the Americans he was charged to defend and protect is equally incalculable.
The most appalling aspect of this country’s death toll caused by the COVID-19 pandemic versus the 1918 Spanish flu is the extent to which this nation in 2020 had the tools available to mitigate it. As Lovelace explains:
Unlike today, there was no vaccine for the 1918 flu. There was also no CDC or national public health department. The Food and Drug Administration existed but consisted of a very small group of people. Additionally, there were no antibiotics, intensive care units, ventilators or IV fluids.
Nor was there any mature science of virology in 1918, and, as Lovelace points out, “Scientists hadn’t even seen a virus under a microscope.”
But because Donald Trump and the vast majority of those in the Republican Party who collaborated with him politicized the pandemic and attempted to weaponize it to their advantage, neither the virus nor its variants have been contained. Absent Trump and the Republicans who followed his lead, the delta variant that is now raging through the country’s still-unvaccinated population would have been severely mitigated. People would not still be dying at record rates in various parts of this country, and businesses, public transportation, and schools would likely not be forced to contend with the degree of masking and distancing requirements that are still now in place. Millions of Americans would now be vaccinated who have instead, because of Trump, Republican officials, and disinformation spread by Fox News and other right-wing media, chosen to forgo vaccination. And the hundreds of thousands of deaths still to come would have been avoided.
History is replete with warnings about how much damage one bad human being can cause, particularly when elevated to a position of considerable power and influence. The destruction wrought by these people is usually magnified when they develop a cult of personality that blinds citizens to the degree of evil they represent. From the beginning, Trump clearly aspired to achieve historical significance during his tenure. He has doubtlessly achieved that goal by directly and indirectly causing the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
No matter what else happens in his miserable, toxic life, that is how history will remember him.
Note: The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake provided some useful context between the two pandemics in this article from last week, updated by Blake on Monday.
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