How many preventable deaths are too many?

For the past seven months attention to death has been the major story covered on television, radio and in newspapers.  Media coverage of death has been unavoidable. Death will remain among the most alarming topics covered by journalists, commentators, bloggers, religious leaders, politicians, celebrities and just ordinary Americans for months and even years to come.  And while there are lots of ways that death becomes headline news it is not death from violence, natural disasters, war or accidents that is the most puzzling.

We understand the underlying causes of these events which snuff out human life.  After all, they are not new. They have been with us throughout our entire lives.  And try as we must we have come to accept them as a tragic fact of life that in most cases we are impotent to stop and often unwilling to try to prevent.  But the death of almost 190,000 Americans confuses, frustrates and angers civilized people who know that many of those previous lives did not have to be lost.

People of faith often speak about the sanctity of life each in their own way based on their religious teachings.  But all three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam share certain common values about the preciousness of life and the importance to try and protect and preserve it when possible.  And yet it seems that far too many Americans have forgotten the basic tenets and teachings of their faiths.

So what do the three major religions have to say about the importance of saving lives?

  • In Judaism, pikuach nefesh is the principle that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule. When the life of a specific person is in danger, almost any command to not do an action of the Torah becomes inapplicable. Jews are taught that to save a life is to save the world.
  • For Christians, human life is sacred and is a gift from God which is to be respected and protected. This teaching is called the sanctity of life.
  • In Islam, life is sacred and one of the greatest gifts and blessings of God. Every moment of life has great value and is irreversible. Therefore, it must be appreciated and protected even if it has a poor quality

Other religions, and even those who profess to have no religion at all, also believe that life is precious and deserve to be protected and saved.  So why then are we scratching our collective heads at the rising death rates from COVID-19?  Why do so many of us seem so willing to accept the inevitability of even more death from what seems to be an unstoppable pandemic that has not spared a single region or demographic in our nation?

Today’s report by CNN has made the horror of the past seven months almost pale by comparison to the ominous projections for the next four months.

(CNN) – More than 410,000 people in the US could die from the coronavirus by January 1, more than doubling the current death toll, a new model often cited by top health officials predicted Friday.  That would mean 224,000 more lives lost in the US over the next four months.

Near-universal mask use could cut the number of projected additional fatalities by more than half, according to the model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. But it also warns the cumulative death toll could be much higher by the new year if all restrictions are eased.

“If a herd immunity strategy is pursued, meaning no further government intervention is taken from now to Jan 1st, the death toll could increase to 620,000,” according to IHME’s briefing.

The death rate could reach an unprecedented 3,000 a day by December, due in part to “declining vigilance of the public,” the IHME expects. For now, the model points to declining mask use in some regions from peak usage in early August.

The numbers are so numbing and so hard to get our minds around that it is difficult to describe them with words so let me try and offer some images that might help comprehend the magnitude to this near-apocalyptic loss.

At the time of this writing 187,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.  Let’s look at those numbers in ways in which we might be able to better understand.

  • 187,000 deaths would be the same as though 1,263 Southwest Airlines planes crashed killing every soul on board. That would be the same as more than six fatal airplane crashes every day since the first COVID death in the U.S.
  • 187,000 deaths is as though the following cities were wiped off the map: Rochester NY; Richmond, VA; Spokane, WA; Des Moines, IA; Montgomery, AL; Modesto, CA; Fayetteville, NC; Tacoma, WA; or Shreveport, LA.  Which of these cities and all of its residents do you think are expendable?
  • 187,000 deaths is as though everyone attending a football game at the Rose Bowl AND Michigan Stadium on the same day were killed.

187,000 dead from Coronavirus are not data or statistics.  They are mothers and fathers; grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, children, friends, neighbors, colleagues and precious souls we don’t know but whose lives we should respect and mourn.  Lives worth of saving but too many lives sacrificed to incompetence and indifference.

If the IHME projections of cumulative deaths are accurate the pandemic will have taken the lives of 410,000 Americans by the end of this year.  During the month of December this highly respected research center projects that 3,000 people will die from COVID every day.  3,000 deaths is as though we will be experiencing the death toll of 9/11 every day during the month of December.

Would every one of these deaths have been preventable?  No, but experts say that prudent mitigation steps including hygiene, masks, social distancing, contact tracing and aggressive closure or modification of non-essential gatherings would certainly have saved tens of thousands of lives.

So, how many lives are too many lives to lose to a disease that could have been attacked early and aggressively?  And how many lives are too many lives to lose because we are not making universal decisions based on science and public health experts but too often because of political and public policy malpractice?  How do we hold those responsible for far too many of these deaths responsible and accountable for the blood that is on their hands and their complicity in the astronomical loss of life?

When it comes to preventable deaths, how many are too many?  How much is too much?  When is enough simply enough?  When will the hollow words about the sanctity of life spoken by sanctimonious politicians turn from rhetoric to urgent and emergent action?  And when will the consequences of our failed national policies of health, safety and security of our fellow citizens become our national tipping point signaling changes to our eroding national values?

We are taught that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.  Failing to heed this lesson is a terrifying existential threat to our nation’s moral compass.  It is time to re-calibrate our compass and stop talking about the value of human life but to start to do something about preserving and protecting life.  Vaccines may help the disease but what is also needed is a vaccine that will offer immunity from the cavalier attitude far too many have about the value of human life.

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to:


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