More than a number

Despite the rising COVID-19 death toll, the US is not experiencing collective grief

Matt Hawryluk, Contributing Writer

During times of tragedy, our nation’s people have come together to remember the lives of our fellow citizens. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, our country’s unity grew stronger, and grief was widespread. Candle-light vigils and memorial services were commonplace, and as a nation we reflect on the devastating terror attack every Sept. 11. Although the COVID-19 death toll surpasses Sept. 11, fatalities every three days, many of us continue to live our lives without being mentally burdened by these deaths.

Graphic by Connor Lawless

In just eight months, COVID-19 has become the third highest cause of death in the United States, yet the gravity of this statistic has not made the mental impression one would expect. We are not mourning the victims on a national scale. We go through our daily lives without fully comprehending the sheer loss of life that is occurring by the minute.

The way we receive information from the media about the virus plays a factor. After Sept. 11, TV channels were dominated by heart-wrenching images of the attack and its aftermath. The nature of COVID-19 prevents us from visually confronting the pandemic deaths in the same way.

Instead, many die alone in a hospital bed, where visiting families are restricted or not allowed at all. In addition to a lack of in-person witnesses, images of patients within hospitals have been few and far between because of hospital guidelines. Instead, we only see the number of COVID-19 deaths displayed in the corner of our TV screens or as a small spike on an online chart.

Another reason for our lack of collective grief is the fact that much of our energy has been diverted toward keeping ourselves safe, sane and informed. We’ve had to learn new ways to attend college with social distancing and hybrid learning. We spend time each day adjusting to these changes and learn how to implement them into our lives. We’ve had to develop new habits such as remembering to wear a mask when we leave the dorm, recalling which cohort meets for in-person class each day and to avoid shaking someone’s hand upon seeing them. Even if you don’t know a victim of the virus, you are certainly coping with the loss of something in your own life, such as canceled study abroad programs or the loss of ways to spend your precious free time. These are reasons why the deaths of others may not be at the front of our minds, but they shouldn’t be reasons to begin with.

Photo from

The COVID-19 victims were ordinary people. Many clocked into work each day in an effort to provide a better future for their children. Or perhaps they were retired and finally about to take that cruise to Europe that they had always dreamed about. Maybe, they had that song they used to always sing along to or a favorite meal they’d never miss a chance to enjoy. Many of them smiled on their wedding days or tossed and turned at night when the pandemic threw our country into a state of uncertainty. During the course of their lives, victims of COVID-19 laughed, cried and felt every emotion in between. They were human, and we are losing them, every single day.

Life has changed dramatically for all of us. But at least we still have lives to live, which is more than we can say for the 210,000 Americans and counting.