Racing to one million dead from COVID-19 in the U.S.

See updates through February 19, 2022, at end of post.

We seem collectively have decided that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is no big deal. But people keep dying. The toll in the U.S. now exceeds 900,000.[1]

We got the medical science right. We failed on the social science. We failed on how to help people get vaccinated, to combat disinformation, to not politicize this.[2]

What Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, omits there is that those die were cast when Donald Trump was more concerned about the stock market than about a lethal pandemic. Adam Gaffney wrote, back on March 17, 2020,[3]

[Donald] Trump’s response goes beyond incompetence – it’s a political abomination. However uncoordinated his administration’s moves have been, Trump has made it clear he sees this pandemic chiefly as a threat to the market and wealthy people’s personal interests (and relatedly, his own political future) – not to the people whose lives it will threaten or claim.[4]

So yes, here we are, racing toward one million dead in the U.S. and, actually, a couple huge counterfactuals: What if someone besides a delusional raging narcissist had been president when COVID-19 had broken out?[5] What if—this must be asked as well—we hadn’t insisted on intellectual property rights at the expense of distributing vaccines to the world?[6]

Counterfactuals are methodological garbage. There is no way to know or account for all the variables that would have to be different for such an alternative reality to have come to pass and no way to test hypotheses. Donald Trump’s election followed the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the working class in favor of neoliberal dogma,[7] a choice which is, itself, part of a larger picture favoring capital and “innovation”[8] that explains why it proved impossible to set aside intellectual property protections. That won’t stop people from asking the questions and I don’t fault the questioners. The answers, however, will surely be constrained by capitalist ideology.

Update, February 6, 2022: Donald Trump lost the election in 2020, but Trumpists have won the pandemic.

I had missed, because it wasn’t generally reported, that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ended its collection of COVID-19 data from hospitals on February 2. Data collection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will continue via coroners, who are often elected or subject to political influence, and via medical examiners. The HHS effort was considered far more reliable, timely, and comprehensive, but HHS argues that the reporting, which was largely automated through electronic medical records systems, imposed an additional burden on hospitals.[9] If only Donald Trump had thought of this, he might have managed to be re-elected.

In the Uber driver app, at the end of each ride, there was a question: Was the rider wearing a mask? It was crude because sometimes there were multiple passengers, some of whom might be wearing masks and some might not, and sometimes some weren’t wearing their masks properly. It was a bullshit question meant to signal a concern for drivers’ and riders’ health that wasn’t really there, but it served as yet one more way to threaten drivers when passengers reported, truthfully or otherwise, that drivers weren’t wearing their masks. That question has now been replaced with a similarly crude question about seat belt wearing.

I expect Uber to be performative. Everything it does is performative, meant to appear responsible while bamboozling investors.[10] I did not expect the same of HHS.

I should not have been surprised. The CDC had already signaled a capitulation to the capitalist god with its guidance on returning to work.[11] We can now understand that a cabinet-level decision has likely been made to let COVID-19 run its course, no matter how many or what variants appear, no matter how many millions die.

This, of course, is precisely what Trumpists have been demanding all along. And they have won.

Update, February 19, 2022:

The idea that Americans are tired of the pandemic has become conventional wisdom, with important policy implications. Democratic governors in blue states like New Jersey and California have rolled back mask mandates, citing the importance of “normalcy.”[12]

As to be expected with FiveThirtyEight, the article from which the above lede is drawn relies heavily on polls which nowadays have ludicrously low[13] and absolutely invalidating response rates that are a generally unacknowledged factor in survey unreliability.[14] But the gist is that there’s no consensus on what a “return to normal” actually looks like.[15]

Leana Wen’s argument has been that we should relax restrictions now with a clear message that they may be reimposed as needed in the future,[16] but she fails to consider the plight and the dilemma immunocompromised people face.[17] That said, there is a reality that even as Canadian police clear the “Freedom Convoy” protests that have disrupted trade and made life generally intolerable for residents, and which oppose pandemic mitigation measures,[18] and even as so many people, both around the world and within the U.S., remain unvaccinated, enabling the rise of ever more variants,[19] it is increasingly clear that the Trumpists have won the pandemic.[20]

Over a million are already dead, both from COVID-19 itself and from an inability to access medical care from overwhelmed facilities.[21] We can be sure there will be more, probably many more.

  1. [1]Associated Press, “‘It is an astronomically high number’: US Covid death toll surpasses 900,000,” Guardian, February 4, 2022,
  2. [2]Ashish K. Jha, quoted in Associated Press, “‘It is an astronomically high number’: US Covid death toll surpasses 900,000,” Guardian, February 4, 2022,
  3. [3]Adam Gaffney, “Trump sees the coronavirus as a threat to his self-interest – not to people,” Guardian, March 17, 2020,
  4. [4]Associated Press, “‘It is an astronomically high number’: US Covid death toll surpasses 900,000,” Guardian, February 4, 2022,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, January 11, 2022,
  6. [6]David Benfell, “The lethal dishonesty of ‘intellectual property’ in a pandemic,” Not Housebroken, November 30, 2021,
  7. [7]Thomas Frank, What’s The Matter With Kansas? (New York: Metropolitan, 2005); Thomas Frank, Pity the Billionaire (New York: Metropolitan, 2012).
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Shooting rich people into space is more interesting,” Not Housebroken, February 5, 2022,
  9. [9]Andre Damon, “End of COVID-19 hospital death reporting is ‘incomprehensible,’ says US health official,” World Socialist Web Site, February 3, 2022,
  10. [10]David Benfell, “This is not a business plan,” Not Housebroken, February 5, 2022,
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Doctors need to act like doctors,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2021,
  12. [12]Jean Yi, “COVID-19 Isn’t Going Anywhere — And Americans Know It,” FiveThirtyEight, February 18, 2022,
  13. [13]Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019,; Steven Shepard, “Report: Phone polls aren’t dead yet,” Politico, May 15, 2017,
  14. [14]Dan Balz, “2020 presidential polls suffered worst performance in decades, report says,” Washington Post, July 18, 2021,; David Byler, “Polling is broken. No one knows how to fix it,” Washington Post, July 22, 2021,; Mona Chalabi, “The pollsters were wrong – again. Here’s what we know so far,” Guardian, November 4, 2020,; David A. Graham, “The Polling Crisis Is a Catastrophe for American Democracy,” Atlantic, November 4, 2020,; Steven Shepard, “Dem pollsters acknowledge ‘major errors’ in 2020 polling,” Politico, April 13, 2021,
  15. [15]Jean Yi, “COVID-19 Isn’t Going Anywhere — And Americans Know It,” FiveThirtyEight, February 18, 2022,
  16. [16]Leana S. Wen, “Yes, more variants may emerge in the future. That’s why we should lift restrictions now,” Washington Post, February 1, 2022,
  17. [17]Ed Yong, “The Millions of People Stuck in Pandemic Limbo,” Atlantic, February 16, 2022,
  18. [18]Miriam Berger et al., “U.S.-Canada border crossing reopens after six-day blockade by ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters,” Washington Post, February 14, 2022,; Amanda Coletta et al., “Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act against Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ trucker protest,” Washington Post, February 14, 2022,; Oriana Gonzalez, “Canadian police arrest over 100 people in trucker protests,” Axios, February 18, 2022,; Paul Vieira and Kim Mackrael, “U.S.-Canada Bridge Reopens After Police Clear Protest,” Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2022,
  19. [19]David Benfell, “The lethal dishonesty of ‘intellectual property’ in a pandemic,” Not Housebroken, November 30, 2022,
  20. [20]David Benfell, “Racing to one million dead from COVID-19 in the U.S.,” Not Housebroken, February 6, 2022,
  21. [21]Melody Schreiber, “US has suffered more than 1m excess deaths during pandemic, CDC finds,” Guardian, February 17, 2022,

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