The desperate toll passed into six figures on Wednesday afternoon: 100,000 victims, who were living Americans several months ago, when the viciously infectious virus made landfall. The landmark is a story of lost mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, spouses and even children. Families are shattered, and the dying expire alone. They can't even be mourned owing to social distancing — one of Covid-19's cruelest impositions.
The virus has been disproportionately infecting communities of color. Black Americans represent 13.4% of the American population, according to the US Census Bureau, but counties with higher black populations accounted for more than half of all Covid-19 cases and almost 60% of deaths as of mid-April, a study by epidemiologists and clinicians found. The virus has also exploited monetary divides, as infections at meat-packing plants show, while many white-collar workers work from home.
The victims also include the living — the more than 30 million Americans whose livelihoods disappeared in the most dramatic collapse in American economic history. A generation born amid the fear of 9/11 just graduated high school during another national trauma. Families near and far haven't gathered for months — and may not for months to come.
But a pandemic — a signature moment alongside civil war, world wars, assassinations and economic crises, in the near 250-year history of the US — is also a political, governmental story. Politicians, few so vociferously as President Donald Trump, want the credit when things go well. So must they carry the can when they fail.
Covid-19's assault is a once-in-a-century event, and no set of detailed plans, war games and batch of epidemiological theories could have prepared the nation for every unknown challenge.