Half-Million U.S. COVID-19 Deaths: A Tragic and Shameful Milestone

Statement by Dr. Kathleen Rest, Executive Director, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Feb 22, 2021

WASHINGTON (February 22, 2021)—The United States has now exceeded 500,000 recorded deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, the worst public health crisis in a century. COVID-19 has brought grave disparities and injustices in our country into sharp focus. It is a clarion call for the urgent need to improve our nation’s systems to protect public health, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Kathleen Rest, executive director of UCS.

“It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the scale of loss and grief that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic. Every one of these half-million deaths represents a unique human being our nation has lost, with rippling effects for families and communities across the country. We mourn these hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the U.S., and many more beyond our borders, along with the millions of others who have been harmed by this devastating pandemic.

“The tragedy of the pandemic is compounded by the profound unfairness of its effects. The disease has hit Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities especially hard, vividly illustrating the public health consequences of systemic racism, and our failure to address it. Efforts to tackle the crisis and recover must focus on the needs and priorities of the most impacted members of our society.

“While the progress of vaccine development and mass vaccinations is encouraging, we can’t let our guard down. Equitable distribution of vaccines remains a major challenge in the battle against this deadly virus. We must listen to the science, follow the advice of public health experts, and fight misinformation.

“We can never recover the lives lost or undo the pain endured by so many affected by this virus. But the scale of this ongoing pandemic should spur us to urgent action. We need robust coordination among state, federal, and local governments to make sure we have strong protective measures in place for our schools and our essential and frontline workers—and that we distribute vaccines quickly and fairly. We need better research, data—including data by race and ethnicity—and public outreach to make sure communities in need can get the care they deserve. We need clear scientific information from our leaders and honest communication about progress, setbacks, and challenges. We need economic relief to help people stay fed, housed, and secure in these difficult times. And we need to build better, more equitable, and more resilient systems that will help us prepare for future public health threats and ensure they don’t turn into similar disasters.”