The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 reached 1 million Monday, a once-unimaginable figure that only hints at the multitudes of loved ones and friends staggered by grief and frustration.
The number of dead, as tallied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, is equivalent to that of a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined. It’s as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out.
“It is hard to imagine a million people plucked from this Earth,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, who leads a new pandemic center at the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I. “It’s still happening and we are letting it happen.”
Three out of every four deaths were people 65 and older. More men died than women. White people made up most of the deaths overall, but Black, Latino and Native American people have been roughly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.
In global surveys, Australians were more likely than Americans to agree that “most people can be trusted” — a major factor, researchers found, in getting people to change their behavior for the common good to combat Covid, by reducing their movements, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Partly because of that compliance, which kept the virus more in check, Australia’s economy has grown faster than America’s through the pandemic.
But of greater import, interpersonal trust — a belief that others would do what was right not just for the individual but for the community — saved lives. Trust mattered more than smoking prevalence, health spending or form of government, a study of 177 countries in The Lancet recently found. And in Australia, the process of turning trust into action began early.
During the toughest of Covid times, Australians showed that the national trait of “mateship” — defined as the bond between equal partners or close friends — was still alive and well. They saw Covid spiral out of control in the United States and Britain, and chose a different path.
Compliance rates with social distancing guidelines, along with Covid testing, contact tracing and isolation, held steady at around 90 percent during the worst early outbreaks, according to modeling from the University of Sydney. In the United States, reductions in mobility — a key measure of social distancing — were less stark, shorter and more inconsistent, based in part on location, political identity or wealth.
In Australia, rule-following was the social norm. It was Mick Fanning, a surfing superstar, who did not question the need to stay with his American wife and infant in a small hotel room for 14 days of quarantine after a trip to California. It was border officials canceling the visa of Novak Djokovic, the top male tennis player in the world, for failing to follow a Covid vaccine mandate, leading to his eventual deportation.
It was also all the Australians who lined up to get tested, who wore masks without question, who turned their phones into virus trackers with check-in apps, who set up food services for the old, infirm or poor in lockdowns, or who offered a place to stay to women who had been trapped in their homes with abusive husbands.