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Don’t forget the humanity behind the numbers

Taylor County reported its first COVID-19 related death on Friday afternoon. The response from the public was immediate and it showed a disgusting level of callousness in regard to grief and suffering of individuals.

Rather than expressing sadness and sympathy over the death of a human being, the response for many was to obsess over the numbers in the Taylor County Health Department’s press release not seeming to add up.

This was followed closely by those who immediately attempted to downplay COVID-19’s role in the person’s death.

In each instance, what was overlooked was that a human being had died. Someone who had laughed, cried, loved and been loved by family and friends was gone and only memories remained. No matter the platitudes of the ill “no longer suffering” or “going to a better place” anyone who has faced grief recognizes that all death is a tragedy whatever the color of the robes the Grim Reaper decides to wear that day.

In the long months since COVID-19 first grabbed headlines in America, there has been a great deal of emphasis on the numbers and a preoccupation of showing charts and graphs, the pretty pictures by which personal tragedies and triumphs are obscured. A lot of this has to do with federal privacy laws preventing government agencies and healthcare providers from releasing personal information. Where past pandemics would have had health workers placing quarantine signs outside of people’s homes and regular updates listing the names of those infected, in modern pandemics those individuals lose their humanity and become anonymous numbers on tally sheets.

The number of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 has swollen with each passing week as the tally of those who have tested positive climbs. Many shake off the virus easily. As is the nature of illness, something that is a mild inconvenience for an otherwise healthy person can be life-ending for someone who is already weakened by other conditions. For them, it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. To those left grieving, it makes little difference.

There are those who feel the restrictions and reaction of public health offi cials are overblown and exaggerated. After all, according to, a group that aggregates and analyzes data from thousands of sources around the globe, as of August 10 the mortality rate of those infected with COVID-19 in the United States is “only” 3.2%. They ask why the other 97% should be inconvenienced for the three people in every hundred would likely die from something else anyway. While this is the type of cold calculation that must be made by generals planning battles in a war, to have it argued as a reason not to take basic safety precautions to look out for neighbors and friends is profoundly disturbing.

There is room for healthy debate over government reaction, or lack of it, to COVID-19. Such debate is necessary when talking about the major societal impacts that have been caused by the pandemic. What must not be forgotten in the discussion is the COVID-19 tally marks and statistics are people.