A Special Scourge of the South: Covid at 1 Million Deaths

Reported Covid Deaths by U. S. Region:

Northeast  – 211,923 deaths
Midwest  – 211,648 deaths
West – 189,805 deaths
South – 378,472 deaths

RANDOLPH SEALS, 39, WAS elected the coroner for Bolivar County, in rural western Mississippi, in 2015. But the relentlessness of the deaths linked to Covid, and his personal ties to so many who were dying, brought him to the brink of quitting in the fall of 2020.

By early 2021, when the South’s death rate spiked again, he wished he had. Then came the Delta variant, and the Omicron wave, and it just got worse.

“It was a disaster that was coming back and back and back,” Mr. Seals said.

As hospitals overflowed, many residents died in their homes. The ripple effect of the pandemic was evident, too, as Mr. Seals began recording the deaths of people with heart or kidney disease for whom there were no hospital beds. Now, he said, he is handling the deaths of people who had Covid and never quite recovered.

While other regions endured several waves of the virus, the South has suffered more frequent and extreme waves of infection and death.

More than 378,000 people in the region have died, many of them younger.

The South has also experienced the highest death rates from Covid of any region. In part, that is because it is home to some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Since vaccines became available, the average death rate fell everywhere but the South, where it rose by about 4 percent.

Epidemiologists also pointed to less stringent responses — lockdowns that ended sooner and masking restrictions that were not enforced as strictly, even when they were in place.

The South has also suffered because the share of adults with three or more chronic health conditions is higher on average than in any other region. Many chronic health problems are risk factors for the coronavirus, and several studies have suggested that 30 percent to 40 percent of all Covid deaths in the United States involved people with diabetes.

Mississippi has the highest Covid death rate of any state, and one of the lowest vaccination rates. Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state’s health officer, said that even given the catastrophic problems with underlying illnesses in Mississippi, persuading more people to get vaccinated would have helped prevent many deaths.

It has been an uphill battle, Dr. Dobbs said, to compete with misinformation, especially on social media, and with people who tried to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic. Polarization around the virus and vaccines, he said, was devastating.

“Either you were fully on board or you did absolutely nothing and ran headlong into the buzz saw that was Covid,” he said.

For Mr. Seals, the coroner, the scale of loss has been hard to wrap his mind around.

“When I ran for county coroner, my biggest fear was a plane falling in my county, or a school bus crash,” he said. “Only the grace of God and my faith kept me grounded.”

– – – –

More Americans have died of Covid-19 than in two decades of car crashes or on battlefields in all of the country’s wars combined.

Experts say deaths were all but inevitable from a new virus of such severity and transmissibility. Yet, one million dead is a stunning toll, even for a country the size of the United States, and the true number is almost certainly higher because of undercounting.

It is the result of many factors, including elected officials who played down the threat posed by the coronavirus and resisted safety measures; a decentralized, overburdened health care system that struggled with testing, tracing and treatment; and lower vaccination and booster rates than other rich countries, partly the result of widespread mistrust and resistance fanned by right-wing media and politicians.

The virus did not claim lives evenly, or randomly. The New York Times analyzed 25 months of data on deaths during the pandemic and found that some demographic groups, occupations and communities were far more vulnerable than others. A significant proportion of the nation’s oldest residents died, making up about three-quarters of the total deaths. And among younger adults across the nation, Black and Hispanic people died at much higher rates than white people.

Understanding the toll — who makes up the one million and how the country failed them — is essential as the pandemic continues. More than 300 people are still dying of Covid every day.

– – –

Among wealthy countries, the United States has been notably unsuccessful at persuading residents to get fully vaccinated and boosted. Today, about a third of people across the United States have not been fully vaccinated, and some 70 percent of the population has not received a booster. (By contrast, 17 percent of people in Canada have not been fully vaccinated, and 46 percent have not had boosters.)

Nearly half of the deaths from Covid in the United States occurred after vaccines were made widely available. The failure to vaccinate, epidemiologists say, contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths. During the Omicron wave in December 2021 and January 2022, for instance, the Covid death rate in the United States was higher than in Germany, France, Britain or Canada, which had each fully vaccinated and boosted larger shares of their populations.

[The day’s total of new U. S. cases reported as of May 15 is 90,093, up more than 60 per cent in the past 14 days, per New York Times figures, which are likely an undercount due to  incomplete reporting.]

— from the New York Times

2 thoughts on “A Special Scourge of the South: Covid at 1 Million Deaths”

  1. Chuck–Hope you are aware that you are barely cracking open the lid of the “Pandora’s Box” by citing Covid deaths in different regions. Wouldn’t it be more illuminating to use death rates from Covid in these areas per, say 10,000 people, and perhaps also, per racial or income or educational cohort in order to appear, at least, to be slightly more comparable, one to the other?

  2. I think the problem might have been that they were listening to a commander and chief who was not much of either of a commander or chief. Most educated,,not all but most knew it was no hoax.

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