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Historically Speaking: Honoring Those Lost to Covid

By Will Bellaimey:

National Covid Memorial Wall, Photo:

Watch the latest installment of Historically Speaking with Will Bellaimey, or read the transcript below!


I’m Will Bellaimey, and I’m here for the latest in our series Historically Speaking, where we’re making connections between things that have happened in the past, which is what I teach about as a history teacher, and what’s happening in the news.

Today we’re gonna talk a little bit about the milestone of a million people dead of COVID in the United States. And that is the huge death toll of years of different decisions at different levels of government that could have protected people better, or I suppose, could have made it worse. We're really lucky to be living in a country where the vaccine has been widely available. There certainly are still lots of places around the world where they just don't have access to the vaccine. And I wonder, you know, how high the numbers would be if, when these surges like Omicron and the BA.2 one that's coming through now, if those came through a completely unvaccinated population, I think you'd see even more devastating consequences.

But for so many families, the loss that's already happened is so deeply devastating. And pandemic deaths, unlike war deaths, are ones that we, as a society, don't exactly know how to mourn. We don't have a giant memorial in Washington, D.C., to all of the people who died in the 1918 flu pandemic, even though that was more people than died in a lot of the wars that we do have memorials to. And I think there have been some moments during this pandemic where there have been candlelight vigils and moments of silence and all of the kinds of things that we do after tragedy. But the real effect of this will take years to fully understand; and some of it we probably won't ever totally understand in part because, unlike the 1918 flu, this is a pandemic that has fallen disproportionately on older Americans, who are often overlooked and not valued in the same way. Maybe, you know, when you lose a grandparent, you really feel it in a serious way. But I think a lot of our policies don't understand that those lives have equal value to those of younger people. And I think that's its own kind of quiet tragedy that's happened.


Will Bellaimey teaches U.S. Government and Politics at Flintridge Prep School outside Los Angeles where he is also the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Geography, which is staffed entirely by seventh graders. His podcast, All the Presidents, Man, is available here.

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