John O'Connor
John O’Connor

There’s a memorable scene in “The Blues Brothers” that anyone who has lived near train tracks or airports can fully appreciate.

As an elevated train rumbles by their rundown apartment, new arrival Jake Blues (John Belushi) asks brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) how frequently such trains – and the room-shaking noise they cause – should be expected.

“So often you won’t even notice it,” Elwood replies.

Talk about a metaphor for our current pandemic.

According to newly released figures, COVID-19 has killed or helped kill more than 700,000 Americans, with no end in sight. Of these, hundreds of thousands were residents who lived in seniors housing and care settings.

Is the rising death toll causing widespread panic in the streets? Or a united effort to do everything humanly possible to rein in COVID-19? Not exactly. In fact, what we mostly seem to be seeing is a major backlash against the two proven ways to stop things from getting worse (vaccinations and mask wearing).

In many quarters, the feeling seems to be that COVID-19 is little more than a freedom-challenging nothing burger. Best to ignore it, apparently.

Yet the facts suggest something very terrible is underway. Consider this list of the nation’s top 12 death-causers in our nation’s history, and the related death toll:

12) The Pearl Harbor attack: 2,390

11) The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: 2,996

10) San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire: 3,000

9) Galveston, TX’s 1900 hurricane: 8,000

8) The Korean War: 36,914

7) The Vietnam War: 58,220

6) World War I: 116,516

5) World War II: 405,400

4) The 1918 flu pandemic: 675,000

3) The HIV/AIDS epidemic: 700,000

2) The COVID-19 pandemic: 701,000 (so far)

1) The U.S. Civil War: 750,000

Did you happen to notice No. 2? Perhaps soon to be No. 1?

To be sure, each item here represents real tragedy. We rightfully have monuments galore to help us remember many of them, and to honor the dead.

But for some reason, the piling up COVID deaths doesn’t seem to be generating anywhere near the same kind of visceral reaction. Why do so many seem so disinterested?

Maybe part of the issue is that the pandemic largely has been framed as a political rather than healthcare issue. Perhaps part of the issue is that this particular killer is both non-human and invisible.

I think there’s something else going on as well: the staggering number of continuing deaths. They are piling up so fast that the overall effect has been nothing short of numbing. Simply put: For many, it’s hard to appreciate how truly devastating the ongoing carnage really is.

Still, each COVID-19 death is all too real. No matter how hard we try not to notice.