The Human Toll of COVID-19 Can’t Be Quantified

I haven’t held my dad’s hand in over five months.

No one has.

Like many of America’s nearly 1.5 million nursing home residents, he has experienced a sudden and seemingly indefinite period of social isolation under COVID-19 restrictions. Are they warranted? Absolutely. Do they inflict pain anyway? Unfortunately, yes.

Since 2016, a neurological illness called Multiple System Atrophy has forced my dad to rely on a ventilator for survival. He now spends most of his life motionless, unable to wage war against the disease ravaging his brain. With each additional day that COVID-19 forces his nursing home to remain closed, I lose yet another chance to sit at his bedside. Instead, I stand outside his window, thinking about the implications of this moment. As America continues to count the dead, it is overlooking the lives of those who are running out of time.

Since March, more than 190,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. While staggering in its own right, our country’s rising death toll has merely been exacerbated by the inaction of federal officials and the politicization of public health. For those who have managed to avoid falling ill, the impact of COVID-19 has nevertheless proven to be as swift as it is relentless. Canceled events, shuttered businesses, and upended lifestyles have turned 2020 into a blur, leaving many people overwhelmed by the pandemic’s impact. But even as we attempt to process and analyze these repercussions, it remains clear that the human toll of COVID-19 can’t be quantified.

In a world redefined by COVID-19, the well-being of our society has become too complex for numbers alone to convey. Accordingly, the consequences of refusing to social distance or wear a mask extend far beyond adverse health outcomes. By failing to embrace the most basic of interventions, we are separating families, endangering our peers, and prolonging the suffering of our nation. I just want to hold my dad’s hand before he’s gone.


Joel Anderson recently graduated from WashU as a member of the Class of 2020 with a major in anthropology: global health and environment and a minor in sociology. He now lives in Tacoma, WA, and will join the Congressional Hunger Center in September as a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow.

Reflection Questions

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