US deaths at brink of 500K, confirming virus’ tragic reach
For weeks after Cindy Pollock began planting tiny flags across her yard — one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by COVID-19 — the toll was mostly a number. Until two women she had never met rang her doorbell in tears, seeking a place to mourn the husband and father they had just lost.
Then Pollock knew her tribute, however heartfelt, would never begin to convey the grief of a pandemic that has now claimed nearly 500,000 lives in the U.S. and counting.
“I just wanted to hug them,” she said. “Because that was all I could do.”
After a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S., the pandemic is poised to surpass a milestone that once seemed unimaginable, a reminder of the virus's reach into all corners of the country and communities of every size and makeup.
“It’s very hard for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or have a family member who has died,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We haven’t really fully understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”
Experts warn that over 100,000 more deaths are likely in the next few months, despite a massive campaign to vaccinate people. Meanwhile, the nation’s trauma continues to accrue in a way unparalleled in recent American life, said Donna Schuurman of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon.
At other moments of epic loss, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans have pulled together to confront crisis and console survivors. But this time, the nation is deeply divided. Staggering numbers of families are dealing with death, serious illness and financial hardship. And many are left to cope in isolation, unable even to hold funerals.