PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After mass shootings killed and wounded people grocery shopping, going to church, and simply living their lives last weekend, the nation marked a milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID-19. The number, once unthinkable, is now an irreversible reality in the United States — just like the persistent reality of gun violence that kills tens of thousands of people every year.
Americans have always tolerated high rates of death and suffering — among certain segments of society. But the sheer number of deaths from preventable causes, and the apparent acceptance that no policy change is on the horizon, raises the question: Has mass death become accepted in America?
“I think the evidence is unmistakable and quite clear. We will tolerate an enormous amount of carnage, suffering, and death in the U.S. because we have over the past two years. We have over our history,” says Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist and professor at Yale who, before that, was a leading member of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP.
“If I thought the AIDS epidemic was bad, the American response to COVID-19 has sort of ... it’s a form of the American grotesque, right?” Gonsalves says. “Really — a million people are dead? And you’re going to talk to me about your need to get back to normal when for the most part most of us have been living pretty reasonable lives for the past six months?”