I remember hearing Dr. Fauci warn last March that the death toll from COVID-19 in America could reach 200,000. The sense of loss I felt in that instant was almost as intense as learning a few months later that a friend had died from the virus. But by the time we passed Dr. Fauci’s early projection, numbers had lost much of their meaning.
There is a simple explanation for why we have become somewhat numb. It is an inevitability when you are reading new numbers every single day for months on end. Eventually, you become desensitized to the daily reminder that people are dying.
Of course, there is also the doubt sowed by some politicians and many conspiracists. A lot of people were fooled by a graphic that claimed fewer people died in America last year than in 2019. The reality was that there were over 400,000 excess deaths during 2020, which is more than the official COVID count.
Desensitization from overexposure as well as a lingering doubt over the true destruction of COVID is part of the reason we are no longer fixated on the numbers. However, I think there is more to it than that, especially since so many have personally lost people.
As we rapidly approach the half a million mark, hoping and praying that the vaccine will end this nightmare before it gets much worse, it is important that we reflect on how the death of well over a thousandth of our population in such a short time will impact us individually and as a nation.
Denialism and Nihilism
Two of the most common and extreme responses to this mass catastrophe have been denialism and nihilism. While they may seem very different in theory, they are two sides of the same coin. At the very least, they lead to a similar loss of motivation.
By denialism, I am referring to the refusal of some people to believe the numbers. By nihilism, I am referring to the refusal of some people to appreciate the enormity of those numbers.
The first group are those who will immediately believe a Facebook post that tells them no more people have died than usual.
The second group are those who will mock everyone worried about the virus by stating that there is a 99% survival rate. They will insist that everyone dies at some point anyway. The fact that a handful of people are dying a little earlier than they otherwise would, according to this group, is no reason for us to stop living our lives according to our own whims.
Both groups are difficult to argue with. Denialists will just… deny… everything you say to them. On the other hand, there is little you can say to nihilists in the first place to convince them that life is a little more important than that.
What these two groups have in common is that both of them insist that we should act as if nothing is wrong and just get on with our lives. This response is incredibly worrying for our country because what millions are currently learning is that a lack of future-thinking has caused tremendous pain and suffering and left survivors destitute.
The casualties of living this way
It is easy to speak about living for today and the fact that we only live once, but using this as an excuse to ignore reality and what will happen in the future leads to huge individual and communal problems.
It is this kind of thinking that has led to people refusing to follow medical guidelines (and common sense) and continuing to socialize in big groups without social distancing and masks. The virus has spread so incredibly quickly in the US, which is why 25 million people have gotten sick and almost half a million have died.
This is not a uniquely American problem. People have refused to wear masks or take lockdown seriously in the UK. People have held huge superspreader events like weddings in South Africa with no regard for consequence even with the second wave in full force.
However, with Donald Trump as president, we had the country’s leader advocating for this approach. Many loyalists to him jumped on board with his messaging. All of which has contributed to America having almost a quarter of the world’s COVID deaths with less than 5% of the world’s population (granted that some countries are underreporting).
The consequences go beyond more death and illness. Many people are dying without leaving any plans for the loved ones they are leaving behind. When the breadwinner of a family dies without leaving life insurance or even guidance for their family, the family is thrown into chaos and potential financial ruin.
Even those who have plenty of money are impacted by the death of a close family member who left no guidelines. Massive rifts can be caused by the division of the person’s estate. The family is left fighting while struggling to organize funerals and actually grieve the loss.
Taking all of this into account, what are the changes we can make so that we can move on in a responsible manner?
One of the fundamental changes we need to make is the way we approach to medicine as a society. Millions of Americans are distrustful of a health care system that seems to care more for profits than health, and pharmaceutical companies that charge exorbitant prices for lifesaving medicine that is cheap or free everywhere else simply because they can.
That said, there is a medical and scientific community in place, as well as stringent laws, that keep these for-profit companies from releasing drugs that have not been sufficiently tested.
As a society, we need to start seeing health care as a right, rather than a privilege. As individuals, we need to be a bit more skeptical of untested alternative medicines and find out more about the measures that ensure the safety of pharmaceuticals.
The upside to the absurd cost of health care in America is that more entrepreneurs than ever before are looking to get involved in finding new medical solutions to prevent tragedies such as this. Yes, it’s not very helpful if only those with money get access to those innovations, but the drive to further medical technology is undoubtedly a good thing.
Accessibility to medical professionals is part of this change. The ability of health professionals to provide services online has been proven to a large degree during the pandemic.
In the past, people have had to deal with long waiting times, distracted health professionals, and sometimes substandard care if they did not have the money to pay for better service. Now, doctors can see more patients more quickly, without the individual having to travel or take time off work.
At the moment, most medical professionals are caught up in treating people with COVID-19. Hopefully, in the near future online doctors will be accessible no matter how small the complaint.
Online will and testament
Most importantly, we need to change our approach to death. Many people have already been forced to, with loved ones dying at home rather than in a hospital. Death is no longer so cleanly separated from our day-to-day lives.
But aside from how death happens, we need to change our approach to how we prepare for it. Too many people die without writing a will, and this causes tremendous chaos for their families in a very difficult time.
Fortunately, will and testament services are now more readily accessible than ever, as you can see with LawDepot’s online will services. A will is the most basic legal document, and can be written by anyone. Online will makers use a simple template and associated algorithm to take your requests and compile them into a will.
Some of these services are even free, while others charge for a legal professional to give it a once over. The very least you should do is write a basic will for free. None of us know how long we each will live, and you don’t want to leave your loved ones without a way forward.
In addition to writing a will, consider getting life insurance if you don’t have it already. It is inexpensive and, even if it is not a high enough amount to keep your loved ones financially afloat indefinitely, it will see them through the instability of the initial stages.
As a country, we need to change our approach to future-thinking. COVID-19 has made many people confront death too soon. Rather than letting this make us apathetic, we should use the opportunity to better prepare for our own and our family’s future wellbeing.