The attacks of September 11, 2001, cost the lives of 2,977 people—not including the 19 terrorists. More than 6,000 were injured. It was a total that galvanized the nation, altered the shape of government, and ultimately generated two wars in which over 8,500 more Americans have fallen. But it’s also a total smaller than the numbers of American deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Wednesday alone.
Different sites—from Johns Hopkins to WorldOMeters—report different numbers each day, but CNN set Wednesday’s number at a ghastly value of 3,157 COVID-19 deaths. WorldOMeters set the number at a slightly sub-9/11 value of 2,831 deaths, but even that number represents a new record high, surpassing the worst days of the initial surge.
On the same day, hospitalizations from COVID-19 exceeded 100,000 for the first time. The 203,427 new cases logged on Wednesday was another record. One week after Thanksgiving, any additional cases from the ill-advised travel are only starting to appear, and deaths from those gatherings of families and friends are still days or weeks from contributing to the totals.
The real horror of Wednesday’s record numbers is not that they were elevated by the widespread disregard for caution around the holiday. It’s that they were not. Whatever price the nation will pay for millions of travelers and outsized get togethers, is still to come.
That these grim numbers are coming at the same time that the first vaccines are just weeks from arriving only makes it more disheartening. And frustrating. National leadership at this time—an announcement of consistent guidelines and restrictions to address what is undoubtedly the worst moment to date—could go a long way toward applying the brakes to a pandemic raging out of control.
And on the day of this newest national tragedy, Donald Trump did take the stage to deliver what he called his “most important speech.” Unfortunately, that speech was a rambling tirade of lies about voter fraud; one that contained all the ridiculous assertions, and terrifying threats, of Trump’s assault on democracy.
On 9/11, the nation looked on in horror, but also with a sense of national unity. After four years of Trump, in a pandemic that has been as great as 9/11 times ten, every death only seems to drive more division.