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How Quickly We Forget: The Lost and Disrespected Victims of COVID-19

“Pettiness of mind, ignorance and presumption are the cause of stubbornness, because stubborn people only want to believe what they themselves can imagine, and they can imagine very few things.” – Madeleine de Souvre

After months of staying at home other than trips to the grocery store or pharmacy my wife and I went for a “leisurely drive” by the lakefront on Memorial Day. It was the saddest experience for me in recent memory. We saw hundreds of people because we went late in the day. I am sure that had we gone much earlier we would have seen thousands of people. After we drove from the Summerfest grounds up Lake Drive two things stood out to each of us. No masks and no social distancing.

During our long drive up the lake and into suburban communities along the lake we counted literally two people with masks. One was wearing it properly; the other had it wrapped around his neck. We saw people from all communities at the lake. No one appeared to care about social distancing. It was like a normal warm day at the lakefront. If you just woke up from a months long slumber, you would have had little evidence that over 100,000 people have been killed by a virus in the last one hundred twenty something days.

As we continued our drive up past the lakefront into Shorewood and Whitefish Bay we waited to see people wearing face coverings but saw none. As we turned onto Silver Spring Drive towards Bayshore Mall we saw none. I was not trying to judge people for wearing or not wearing masks but what I saw told me something that hit my heart.

Far too many people do not appear to value the lives of those 100,000 that have been killed in this country. In our quest to “honor” veterans on Memorial Day we dishonored the civilians who have died in the greatest battle against an unseen enemy since the 1918 flu pandemic.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,403 people, President Roosevelt called it a “date which will live in infamy.” When 2,996 were killed on 9/11, President George W. Bush said, “I ask the American people to join me in saying a thanks for all the folks who have been fighting hard to rescue our fellow citizens and to join me in saying a prayer for the victims and their families.”

Where have those prayers gone? When on April 7 New York City saw their death toll from COVID-19 surpass the number killed on 9/11, the day passed without much being said outside of New York.

As I see states reopen, beaches become packed, nightclub and bar patrons spill out onto streets, water parks fill with customers, two hair stylists in Missouri expose one hundred and fifty clients and co-workers while working with symptoms of coronavirus, I ask myself a question. Where is the outpouring of remembrance for those who have been killed?

Is what I saw in person and on the news on Memorial Day a sign that we have lost our hearts? Is it simply a sign that people are tired of the lockdowns and want to get back to a state of normalcy? I really cannot say for sure. I do not want to be mad at people for wanting to get back to the lives they had before COVID-19. It makes perfect sense in a way. But it also makes no sense. I want to get back to normal too. However, I understand the fallacy in calling anything in the near future normal.

This is the paradox we face. Wanting normalcy while the virus continues to spread and kill. It is as if we can wish it away by pretending it were gone. I knew when states began to reopen that we would see people pretending that some arbitrary date on the calendar when their state’s stay-at-home order ended meant we were safe. A recent look at data from around the country shows that cases continue to rise in 22 states. Large cities in Texas are seeing more cases, Georgia and Alabama see increasing spread of the disease, Tyson Foods meatpacking plants in small rural communities have seen the number of infected workers grow from about 1,600 a month ago to over 7,000 now.

As I looked at the thousands packed like sardines at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri I cringed knowing that some of those people who enjoyed their revelry would contract the virus for sure. Public health officials in the state warned of “long-lasting and tragic” results. St. Louis County health officials asked anyone who was at the Lake of the Ozarks to self-quarantine for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result in a travel advisory they issued on May 25.

The reality is that if those individuals were that unconcerned about catching or passing on the virus they will certainly not heed this advice. Why would they? Lets not pull out the old “common sense” excuse. As I have said for many years, “common sense is not very common.” When an invisible enemy that still lurks among us kills over 100,000 and people live their lives as if it does not exist it tells me that too many Americans are living in a fantasy world. They are in a deep state of denial.

The virus does not care that we do not care. It will continue to kill. There is ample evidence that we surpassed the 100,000 deaths threshold a long time ago. The official death numbers related to COVID-19 are tens of thousands lower than the true numbers according to many experts.

It really does not matter though. People will continue to believe what they want to believe and continue to live their lives blindly ignoring social distancing and refusing to wear face coverings because this is what Americans do. Social media has led to people believing that 5G cell phone towers transmit the disease, and that it is just a hoax as the president proclaimed months ago. As a result, many have ignored stay-at-home decrees by their governors.

Far too many Americans love their “freedoms” too much to abide by the advice of public health officials. Americans are the most spoiled of the spoiled. I know a lot of people that have followed the advice and stayed safe. Yet I still hear stories constantly of those who have not. A coronavirus denier recently fell ill along with his wife and finally admitted on social media from his hospital bed that he believed the pandemic was blown out of proportion and that is why he and his wife lived as if it did not exist.

When we look back at the first six months of 2020 it will be readily apparent that we have mostly forgotten those who have died. When I think about how we have responded I am astounded at the lack of compassion and empathy. Early on in Milwaukee we were able to learn the identity of some of the first victims but as the numbers continue to climb we only hear about new victims as numbers on a dashboard. We have unintentionally dehumanized those who have died.

We have lost over 100,000 people and should be in a national state of mourning but instead, our fearless leader is out golfing. Our fellow citizens are rushing into over-crowded places of amusement to enjoy the warmer weather. After the 9/11 attacks I remember a state of mourning that lasted months. Flags were flown at half-mast around the country for weeks.

Now we seem to be moving on with life as if those deaths did not occur. How can we be so callous and disregard the memories of so many lost lives? But perhaps I am making assumptions and people really do care and just do not know how to show it. I seriously doubt this. I believe in the old saying that actions speak louder than words. Our collective response as a nation to these deaths has been shameful in my mind. We are so caught up in ourselves that we have little ability to care about these 100,000 that have died and all of their families, friends, neighbors and co-workers who miss them. We as a society love sports and are fixated on numbers and milestones in the record books. What would the coronavirus record book in America look like?

First coronavirus death February 6; Passed 1,000 confirmed cases March 11; Passed 50 deaths March 15; Surpassed 100 deaths March 17; More than 250 deaths March 20; Over 1,000 deaths March 25; Becomes worldwide leader in confirmed cases March 25; Over 100,000 confirmed cases March 27; Surpassed 5,000 deaths April 1; Over 10,000 deaths April 6; Over 500,000 confirmed cases April 11; 50,000 deaths April 24; Over 1 million confirmed cases April 28; 75,000 deaths May 7; over 1.5 million confirmed cases May 18.

The rugged individualism that many Americans are so proud of is showing itself to be a recipe for disaster during this pandemic. We have allowed partisan political bickering to cloud our judgment about how we respond to this crisis. Political and religious affiliations have become a key indicator of how we respond to this pandemic. It is a sad testament about the current state of the human race.

Many books will be written in the years ahead about how we have reacted to this pandemic. I for one will not need to read those accounts because I am living in the moment with my eyes wide open. I am seeing the book being written in real time. The chapters will discuss the massive discord and arguments about testing, shutting down economies, stimulus funding, protests to reopen states, wearing masks or not wearing masks; ingesting household cleaners or not, social distancing or not, the President wearing masks or not. These are the things I remember being the focus of attention instead of the soaring death toll.

I decided to use Memorial Day to honor the lives lost to COVID-19 because they were brave fighters too. They were on the frontlines of this battle. They fought to save lives, sometimes their own, sometimes those of others. I will continue to remember them despite others seemingly ignoring their memory. My actions and words will honor them and their memory. I will never forget this time, not because of the pandemic but because of those many lives we have lost. We can honor their memory by protecting our fellow humans and ourselves by being smart instead of stubborn.

“There’s none so blind as those who will not listen.” – Neil Gaiman

“Obstinacy is a fault of temperament. Stubbornness and intolerance of contradiction result from a special kind of egotism, which elevates above everything else the pleasure of its autonomous intellect, to which others must bow.” – Carl von Clausewitz

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Kristine Porter via Twitter

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About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also a Consultant with Nurturing Diversity Partners, and volunteers as Head Griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Bronzeville.