THE NEXT 100,000

It’s Thursday, May 28, 2020. 

It’s the 76th birthday of Rudy Giuliani.

Tell the truth: You didn’t think he was that young. 

You also haven’t seen him around much lately. Why do you think that is?

The Johns Hopkins-compiled COVID-19 death toll officially reached 100,000 last night.

You thought we hit the milestone over the weekend after The New York Times published the stirring list of 1,000 fatalities beginning on Sunday’s front page. 

No. We just got close last weekend. We got there last night.

And it wasn’t as if we weren’t going to hit 100,000 deaths. There was nothing to indicate that the tragedy would just come to a stop at whatever number was on the Johns Hopkins page when the Times went to press Saturday night.

Just as there’s no indication that number won’t seem quaint before too long. We’re coming to a point when May 27 will be the day when there were only 100,000 people dead from COVID-19.

That seems cold, doesn’t it?

But if you think 100,000 deaths is jarring and tragic, how are you going to feel at 200,000?

Is there going to be the same gasp that afflicted Americans who care about this crisis? Or are we going to be numb to this level of unimaginable and unnecessary death?

There are people who already are.

The people jumping up and down in the streets outside the capitals of states where governors have taken this thing seriously. They’ve been conditioned to think this whole thing is overblown, a massive political hit job. At the very most, a bad flu season.

Obviously, 100,000 deaths isn’t a big deal to Trump. He didn’t seem to have a lot to say yesterday about the milestone, instead choosing to nurse the wounds inflicted Twitter dared to say the garbage he spewed was inaccurate.

And his bet – and it’s one he could very well win – is that you and I and everyone else in the country is going to accept that 100,000 number and move on. 

So that when we reach 110,000 sometime next week, 125,000 sometime in June and 150,000 by early August, who’ll care? It’s just a number – forget the victims and the lives they led and the families and loved ones they left behind – and there’s some other shiny object to focus on.

But we’re going to get to 200,000 dead Americans, because while the pace of death across the country is slowing a little, it sure as hell ain’t stopping.

And this administration and the people who support it – yeah, that’s right, all of the people who support it – are not interested in whether or not it goes on. 

Trump doesn’t give a good goddamn about 100,000 or 124,576 or 147,832 or whatever number pops up on the TV screen every night. He’s got his agenda and some people who were going to die anyway aren’t worth stopping to attain it.

He would be in a better place if he even pretended to care. When he even gave a hint of doing that, the cable networks – even the ones he maligned – fawned over the new Trump as if he were Scrooge after the ghosts visited. Just taking that tact would defuse so much of the vitriol hurled at him.

But he didn’t have the discipline or, more important, the empathy. 

You and I do.

No one I love has died from COVID-19. But I know people who have lost loved ones and I’ve heard the sirens wail down the highway that leads to the nearest hospital.

I’ve read the painful tales of parents denied the comfort of their children or spouse as they passed in a cacophony of tubes and machines. 

My students saw the mundane jobs they work as a way to pay for college become essential to our communities’ survival.

I care. I would love to have the power to slam the brakes and stop this death wave before it gets any further. I know you would, too.

We’ll try. We’ll wear the mask. We’ll stay home as much as we can. When we shop or take out food, we’ll only patronize places with strict mask-wearing policies.

We’ll stay up to date on the latest developments in searches for treatments and vaccines. We’ll be ready to do whatever it takes, as a community, to stop the death counter.

Even though we can’t.

When I ran in the park near my home this morning, just 40% of the people I encountered wore a face covering. And this is New York, where mask-wearing in public is supposed to be mandatory.

That’s not nearly enough. You and I might stop some of the spread. But what are the other 60% doing.

And that’s why that 100,000 deaths is merely a mile marker on a long highway. The deaths aren’t stopping because there are too many Americans who have moved on to the next episode. They’re tired of this – as if the virus cares about their ennui.

For the people who love these next 100,000 victims, I’m sorry. I’ll do what I can – I’m going to assume the people reading this will do what they can. 

When the country – all of the country – does it, the counter will stop.


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