Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 by the Numbers

When we talk about COVID, we usually do so in terms of numbers—dates, numbers of cases and deaths, numbers of vaccinated or not, numbers of states that are doing well or poorly—as if we can somehow understand the enormity of this worldwide disease if we can just make sense of those numbers. So, what follows are lots of numbers you help us grasp the impact of COVID-19.

It began on December 12, 2019; it was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020. It is now April 10, 2022. What follows are the numbers that reveal COVID’s consequences in the United States.

  • 80.3 million Americans have contracted Covid; 984 thousand have died
  • 6.2 million were unable to work because employers closed or lost their businesses
  • One in three US small businesses have permanently laid off, furloughed, or reduced the hours or salaries of their entire workforce
  • New cases, driven by the Delta variant of COVID, were detected in more than 80 percent of new cases in the first two weeks to July 31
  • A new variant identified Omicron as “a variant of concern” on November 30, 2021
  • With two exceptions, the top ten governors who have suffered the largest losses are Republicans, most of whom have opposed masking, shutting down of schools, quarantines, and vaccine mandates
  • 218 million or 66.2 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated

Those numbers tell us that this pandemic has taken a catastrophic toll on every aspect of our society. People have become ill and died, which created a healthcare crisis. Individuals, businesses, and entire industries have gone bankrupt, leading to a global financial crisis. Life-saving vaccines have become political footballs, forcing people to take sides and further dividing an already divided country. This is not a pretty picture, but there is nothing pretty about a pandemic. Everyone and everything it touched was harmed—some irretrievably.

Could any of these outcomes have been prevented? I’m sure scientists and medical professionals have been asking that question from the moment the virus was identified on the other side of the world. The answer is yes. The fallout might have been prevented by …

·      Taking timely action: Had American leaders taken the decisive, early measures that several other nations took when we all had the same information at the same time, it is estimated that between 70 and 99 percent of the Americans who died from this pandemic might have been lived.

·      Preventing misinformation: If we had somehow been able to stop the flow of misinformation and disinformation, Americans might have put their trust in medical professionals instead of cable news pundits and conspiracy theorists who pedaled false medical cures, politicized public health attempts to curb transmission of the disease, and increased loss of life.

·      Countering the anti-vaxxing movement: According to the US News & World Report, an untold number of lives, perhaps tens of thousands, have been saved by vaccination. Had we been able to counter the anti-vaxxer distortions of the facts, there is no doubt that more lives could have been saved. “Even when this pandemic is over, an energized base of anti-vaxxers will lead to more deaths for years to come,” notes The Los Angeles Times.

This report may have been difficult to read. It was certainly difficult to write. COVID has touched and disrupted every aspect of life as we knew it. How do we wrap our minds around the fact that 984 thousand Americans have died—unless we have lost someone close to us? Then, COVID becomes personal, and the numbers lose their meaning. Statistics may show us the big picture, but it is the personal losses that really tell the story.

Bottom line: It is impossible to assess the impact of COVID-19 solely by the numbers.