Pausing to remember the lives lost due to COVID-19

Our country has passed the somber milestone of 500,000 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, an epic tragedy of lives cut short that has touched communities across the country, and has hit New Jersey especially hard. These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet; these are moms and dads, spouses and children, beloved grandparents, favorite aunts, uncles and cousins, brothers and sisters. These are colleagues, civic leaders, small business owners, nurses, police officers, first responders, train conductors, bus drivers, best friends, community treasures.

The full measure of COVID-19’s impact may not be known for some time. And it’s likely that the death toll from this pandemic has been severely undercounted from the beginning. But reaching 500,000 confirmed deaths is a staggering loss. It surpasses the combined populations of Mercer and Hunterdon counties, and exceeds the total number of American combat deaths in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.

The virus has devastated families and entire communities, and brought immeasurable heartache to vulnerable populations, including seniors and those already struggling with chronic illnesses and other underlying health conditions. It has also disproportionately affected people of color.

In New Jersey, at least 22,874 people have died due to complications from COVID-19, with more than 7,800 of those deaths taking place in nursing homes. Making the pain of the pandemic worse, the families and friends of those who have lost their lives could not be by their sides when they died, and in some cases didn’t even get to say goodbye by phone. In many cases, loved ones could not hold funerals or memorial services that traditionally help people cope with grief. Instead, people often have had to mourn in isolation, only connecting with others via phone and video.

Our hearts go out to all our local readers who have lost loved ones during these difficult times, and to others in our community who have suffered in other ways such as losing a job, struggling to keep a business open, having difficulty putting food on the table, or experiencing isolation and loneliness.

Not all has been grim amid the pandemic. Members of the Princeton area community and communities across the country have made heroic efforts over the past year to help their neighbors in big ways and small. From the nurses and doctors in our hospitals who have risked their own health to serve others to the donors who have supported relief funds for families and small businesses, to the grassroots efforts of community volunteers who have worked to feed their neighbors week after week, and the random acts of kindness shown by people in everyday interactions like paying for a stranger’s coffee or lunch in the checkout line, people have made communities better in so many ways.

It’s hard to say with any certainty how many more lives will be lost to COVID-19, or precisely when we will be free to resume life as we knew it. Vaccines offer hope and the promise of a brighter tomorrow. The vaccination rollout in New Jersey has been frustrating, to say the least, but once the supply of vaccines increases, things should improve. Until enough people are vaccinated, each of us can do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to wear masks when we leave home, maintaining a safe physical distance of at least six feet, and avoiding large indoor gatherings. Five hundred thousand deaths from COVID-19 are 500,000 deaths too many. Until we defeat the virus, we must do everything in our power to limit its spread.