IT WASN’T surprising that some people initially went into denial about COVID-19 when it first came on the scene in the United States early this year.
Denial, after all, is often cited as one of the stages of grief. And there were many reasons to grieve. Non-essential businesses were shut down. Hospitals in some major cities were pushed to capacity and beyond as the sickest of the coronavirus patients filled intensive care units. There weren’t enough medical supplies, masks, ventilators or sanitizing supplies to meet the demand.
It wasn’t just scary, it was extremely disruptive to our lives.
Work disruptions wrecked household finances for millions of Americans. Business owners faced the very real possibility of bankruptcy. Travel, dining options, shopping and social events all were affected by the virus.
All those changes hit in those first few months of a global pandemic.
It was a big adjustment for everyone, and so it wasn’t unexpected when a few people experienced denial. For many people the first stage of grief is denial. The first words often uttered after a death or tragedy often are: “This can’t be true. This can’t be happening.”
Now that more than nine months have passed there are still pockets of resistance to the reality of the coronavirus.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal told how Dr. Michaela Schulte works overnight shifts at St. Luke’s Health System hospitals near Boise, Idaho. Schulte lives in a community where many people don’t believe COVID-19 is as bad as public health officials say. Some people even argue that the virus isn’t real.
“It’s a parallel universe,” Schulte said.
Not all of the denial involves the truth of the COVID-19 virus. A common argument is that the coronavirus is a big problem only for a small number of people. Some go further, questioning whether protecting such a small group is worth the loss of economic activity.
Missouri health officials reported 1,451 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing the state total to 382,094 cases since the pandemic began. The state’s death toll from the virus at the start of this week was 5,312.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 19.2 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus in less than a year. Based on Census Bureau estimates, the nation has a population of about 331 million people. So far the coronavirus has infected about one out of every 17 Americans. The CDC also reports that about 333,000 people have died with the virus, with about one out of every 57 infections resulting in death.
By way of comparison, the U.S. had 320,518 military casualties in World War I. Military deaths in World War II reached 1,076,245 over a four-year period. Daily casualties recently surpassed the death toll on Sept. 11, 2001 or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Make no mistake, the fight against COVID-19 is a war.
The coronavirus, which first was recognized about a year ago, is now the nation’s leading cause of death and will remain so for months. The advent of vaccines is good news, but it will take time to vaccinate enough high-risk people to move the needle on the rate of infections.
Medical professionals also point out that among some younger people and those with no obvious health risks, the coronavirus can be fatal or make some people very ill. Some survivors face what could be lifelong complications.
We all have a stake in controlling the spread of coronavirus, even if only a small percentage of us have gotten sick so far. COVID-19 is not a hoax.