AP PHOTOS: Number of victims of the pandemic in the US: in 1 year, half a million lives
By JOCELYN GECKER
Just a year ago, the United States had no idea.
Life in February 2020 still felt normal. Concern was mounting over a mysterious respiratory illness that had just been named COVID-19. There was panic shopping and a sense of dread. However, it was tempered by a great deal of American optimism. The coronavirus still felt like an external problem, even as US authorities recorded the country’s first known death from the virus.
Precisely one year later, the United States has passed a horrific milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.
An incessant march of death and tragedy has warped time and memory. It became easy to forget the shocking images, so many day after day, of scenes once unthinkable in a country of so much wealth and power. As the year wore on, Associated Press photographers formed a pictorial record of suffering, emotion, and resistance. Shows the year America changed.
Looking back, we can see that it happened in phases.
At first, the crisis felt far away.
Last February, Americans still shook hands and commuted to work on crowded public transportation. The children were still in school in the royal classrooms. Hollywood icon Tom Hanks walked the red carpet at the Oscars, unaware that a month later he and his wife would contract COVID-19. Spring baseball training drew the usual crowds, with no mask in sight.
But a sinister cruise ship with passengers infected with COVID flew over the California coast. In a matter of weeks, the Grand Princess, and initial efforts by the state and federal governments to prevent her from reaching land, became a symbol of America’s mistaken belief that she could keep the disease at bay.
Words like closure and social distancing were not yet part of our national vocabulary in those early days. Few of us wore masks while standing in long lines to store supplies and clearing the shelves of toilet paper..
Anguish and despair came quickly.
The nightmare scenes we had witnessed in China and Italy made their way to the United States, and the nation stood firm. Nursing homes near Seattle they became the sites of the first deadly outbreak in the US We saw the elderly and frail suffer alone: an octogenarian with COVID-19, stretched out on a hospital bed, blowing his family a kiss through a window.
The World Health Organization declared the crisis a pandemic in March, and everything from college campuses to corporate headquarters cleared up. The NCAA announced that the rite of spring for so many Americans, their college basketball tournament, would be played before largely empty stadiums, and then abruptly canceled it..
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, became a household name at daily press conferences. When he estimated in March that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the virus, the horror was tempered by utter disbelief. President Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer,” but medical experts disagreed.
The American hustle and bustle came to a standstill when hotspots exploded across the country. Los Angeles’ typically crowded freeways emptied into eerie stretches of open road. The lights remained on in Times Square but its legendary energy and crowds faded. April felt like Armageddon in New York City; Ambulances constantly roamed the deserted streets, body bags were lifted onto refrigerated trucks that parked outside hospitals, where they served as makeshift morgues and stark symbols of death.
Aerial images captured by AP showed another unthinkable sight: a mass grave in New York City for the unclaimed bodies of COVID-19 victims. Workers in hazmat suits were seen lowering wooden coffins, stacked neatly on top of each other, into deep trenches dug in a potters field on the Bronx coast.
We marvel at the heroism of the health workers and try to show our gratitude; New Yorkers clapped and they cheered and banged pots every night at 7pm to honor those doctors and nurses.
We regret the incessant trauma they absorbed at the front.
Scared and exhausted, they fought to save the sick and vowed not to let the victims die alone. Inside the hospital roomsWhere countless patients had no family to comfort them, the grim task of offering comfort fell to the exhausted and emotionally drained doctors, nurses, and hospital chaplains. Some held back tears as they offered nonstop comfort and prayers. “There is so much death right now, it is piling up on you, it feels heavy,” said a chaplain in Georgia.
The reality that the United States had become the global epicenter of the deadliest pandemic in modern history became apparent.
Life moved online: everything from work and school to medical appointments, birthday parties, weddings and funerals.
It became clear that no one was safe. But some were at much greater risk. Racial disparities Who caught the virus developed across the United States, as data showed that Black and Latino people were disproportionately affected by the virus and were dying disproportionately.
The capture of COVID-19 became just one of many concerns as the pandemic shut down society, forcing businesses to close and unemployment skyrocketing. Paychecks dwindled or disappeared altogether for millions, and heartbreaking portraits of hunger appeared across the country as Americans lined the food banks., many for the first time in their lives.
Science mixed with politics, deepening the national divide and increasing the stress of an overwhelmed nation. Protests against racial injustice brought people, most in masks, to the streets.
In the midst of the setback of life, we seek normality. Restaurants in some locations hung their “open” signs and refused to abide by stay-at-home orders, welcoming customers willing to dine inside. Others came up with creative outdoor options. In the parking lot of a California restaurant, a couple brought their own table and even fine china to enjoy Italian takeout.
Then came some glimpses of hope.
Amid escalating losses, vaccines arrived in mid-December, kicking off the largest vaccination effort. in American history. It felt like the first good news in a doomed year. When the doctors and nurses received the first injections, some cheered. Others cried, trauma and constant sadness fused with hope in an indescribable cathartic moment.
As vaccine supplies increased, slowly many of the country’s amusement parks and stadiums, after months of vacations, reopened as mega vaccination sites.
The holidays, often a time of hope, brought more suffering. Empty chairs at family tables they were a painful reminder of lost loved ones. Millions of Americans ignored official pleas to avoid travel and gatherings, making the holidays a catalyst for new infections. Wave after wave of new cases followed Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year’s Eve, with each day seemingly setting new records for infections.
As the country and the world said their goodbyes and goodbye to 2020, it became clear that 2021, the first few months at least, would look quite similar.
Policy changed with President Joe Biden replacing Trump. After four years of chaos and controversy, the new president brought a jarring sense of calm to national politics. Still, vaccine delays persist and it’s unclear whether the United States is winning the war against the virus.
The death toll from COVID-19 does not stop at 500,000, and the virus has mutated countless times, with some variants easier to spread and harder to protect.
We wonder, what will our new normal be like? Will we ever invade amusement parks again or hit movie theaters or hold big business conferences or crowd into Times Square for the ball to drop to mark the end of another year?
The deadliest year in American history has taught us that only time will tell.