Covid-19 in the U.S.: How can we grasp the significance of “200,000 deaths”?

Within a a few days, the U.S. death toll for Covid-19 will pass 200,000.

How can we get our minds around that? We were deeply shocked in 2001 when some 3,000 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. One of my closest friends worked in one of the towers, and I felt certain that he was dying as I watched  on television as the second plane crashed into the second tower.  That personal connection brought home the immense magnitude of the loss, and I myself entered into a period of intense grief and loss. Then, miraculously, I learned that he had been on a business trip in Los Angeles, and was alive.

Absent such a personal connection, it is hard to appreciate the significance of the number 200,000. While my partner has lost an elderly uncle in a foreign country, and the mother of one of her best friends died in a nursing home in Los Angeles, I didn’t personally know these people.  The loss was harder for my partner, who knew them and who had been very close to her uncle as she was growing up.

We can watch on the PBS Newshour nightly tributes to the lives of a small number of victims of Covid-19.  But that doesn’t really help us understand the number 200,000.

In the early stages of the pandemic many of us were deeply moved by the stories of the first victims and their families, and of the doctors and nurses who, trying to save the lives of other victims, themselves succumbed to this insidious disease.

But over time we tend to become numb. We tend to lose the ability to grasp the difference between 30,000 deaths and 50,000, or 100,000 deaths, or 200,000 deaths, a milestone we will pass within days. Predictions are that we may lose a total of 415,000 people by January, 2021.

Who can grasp it?

Yet it is important. There are political leaders who by attacking science and the measures the medical experts have strongly urged, are very directly responsible for tens of thousands of these deaths.  They should be held accountable. The cry for accountability is even greater when they persist in the lack of leadership and anti-science modelling of behavior which is currently contributing–NOW–to tens of thousands of new deaths.

We need to invent a new vocabulary and a new imagery to depict the enormity of the human catastrophe that is unfolding before our eyes. This calamity is taking place in real time, not only in the United States but also in other countries throughout the world.

Leaders who are attacking science and measures medical experts tell us are indispensable to save tens or hundreds of thousands of lives are in effect committing horrendous crimes–crimes which one day may be recognized as “crimes against humanity”.


“Defending the Right to Life and Other Human Rights During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” Lawyers for Humanity, May 7, 2020.

Leaders, of course, are not the only ones committing such crimes.

What can be done to stop this defiance of medical science and the guidance of medical experts regarding social restrictions (e.g., physical distancing and the wearing of masks) necessary to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the increasing death toll which such defiance causes?

That is the question of the hour.

The answer is not clear.  But to begin the process of answering this question, each and every American should begin every day with a long reflection and meditation on the number 200,000.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.