America may be done with coronavirus, but COVID-19 is not done with America

Mural on a reopened business in San Antonio, Texas, in May 2020.
Mural on a reopened business in San Antonio, Texas, in May 2020.

The coronavirus passed another sobering milestone this week when the nation's death toll surpassed twice the number that of U.S. service members killed in the Vietnam War.

Including accidents, suicides, illnesses and deaths that occurred later from war injuries, 58,220 U.S. troops died. The death toll from COVID-19 is now more than 118,000 and growing.

To be sure, the population of coronavirus victims skews decidedly toward people over 60, while the Vietnam War took its toll on the young. But that is no reason to look at the pandemic as anything other than what it is: a monumental national and global tragedy.

And how has the nation reacted to the grim news?

Protests and Trump rallies

Since the toll topped 100,000 and the Memorial Day weekend kicked off the summer season, much of America has decided that it is done with the coronavirus. Americans are ready to go back into bars and restaurants, gyms and hair salons; to plop down on crowded beaches; and to attend protests or Trump political rallies, like the one scheduled to be held indoors at an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.

Alas, the coronavirus is not done with America.

OPPOSING VIEW: Increase in coronavirus cases was to be expected

Three months after the nation went into lockdown, and several weeks after some communities started reopening, the number of COVID-19 cases is rising in 20 states even as the death rate, mercifully, has continued on a downward path for now.

While states like New York and New Jersey took the brunt of the pandemic in its early stages, Sun Belt states looked on with detachment, if not smugness. Now they are the ones seeing their numbers rise. How high they will go is anyone’s guess.

Young people are often the ones chafing the most at social distancing. It’s not hard to see their point. People 35 and under account for less than 1% of fatalities, while people who are 75 and up account for 60%. But these young people are still at some risk of bad outcomes, and they can easily spread the disease to more vulnerable people.

COVID-19 not 'dying out'

What is clear from all this is that the nation's response to the pandemic is as patchwork as the outbreak itself.

European nations that are more densely populated than the USA, and initially were hit harder, are now reporting as little a few hundred new cases per day, compared with more than 20,000 daily here.

The poor national leadership starts at the top, with President Donald Trump's premature proclamations that the virus is "dying out" and "fading away," but the pandemic problem goes beyond him.

Too many Americans are too quick to listen to the crackpots and to dismiss the experts who live in the worlds of facts and science. This has long been true with climate deniers and anti-vaxxers. Now it is true of people pushing conspiracy theories about the origins of the coronavirus, or who argue that it is being overblown. Even mask wearing has become yet another flashpoint in the endless culture wars.

You'd have thought the mass casualties of this pandemic would put some sense into us. So far, that does not appear to be the case. America’s cavalier attitude toward the deadly virus does not bode well for the nation's ability to handle future challenges.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: America so done with COVID but it's not done with America