Remembering COVID-19’s victims on Memorial Day and beyond

Donna Morrissey was a ray of sunshine. She was an authentic humanitarian, beautiful, intelligent, warm, and committed to serving the community. After early work in television, she handled public relations for the Boston Archdiocese in the first year and a half of the priest sex abuse scandal. There were times her life was threatened, and the unfolding story tore her apart. She moved on to work for the American Red Cross and was often dispatched to scenes of horrifying disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the Newtowne shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombings. She was just 51 years old when she died this week of COVID-19.

Donna is one of the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died since the outbreak of the virus, 6300 in Massachusetts. Each one had a story. Each leaves behind devastated family and friends. The death toll, ever climbing, didn’t have to yield so much tragedy.  If the Trump administration had acted just one week earlier on information in its possession, an estimated 36,000 who became infected in March need not have died, according to Columbia University modelers.   Two weeks earlier could have saved 54,000.

Just imagine if our failed leaders had acted in January at the same time as South Korea did.

Nothing will bring them back, nor any of the others who could have survived if the President hadn’t put his reelection interests ahead of the public good. If, faced with scientific evidence, he hadn’t delayed by a week or more all-important travel alerts. If, while imposing his porous Chinese curtain, he hadn’t ignored the millions of travelers coming to the East Coast from an already-infected Europe. If he had called for social distancing. If he had vigorously activated the Defense Production Act months earlier to drive manufacturers to produce more ventilators, masks, tests, swabs, reagents and other personal protective equipment. If he had listened to the early warnings of the intelligence community. If he had respected the data. If he had followed the advice of experts in the science. If. If. If.

On Memorial Day, we remember, as we have since 1868, those who have died while in military service. On this Monday, we must remember not just those who have died for their country but those who died because of their country, and its long list of failures during this epic crisis.  We should lower our flags to half staff from now until a vaccine is developed, tested clinically, with production scaled up to meet the needs of 320,000,000 Americans and the rest of the world’s 7.8 billion people. This symbolic act should not be a token 3-day tribute, but a lowering of flags on all buildings, private and public, until a time when we don’t have to worry about COVID-19 any more. As we get on with our lives, those lowered flags should be a constant reminder of the lives lost.

However Donald Trump denies the responsibilities of the United States to other peoples and nations, the COVID-19 pandemic drives home the message that Make America Great Again is not a slogan to live by. We are not islands unto ourselves, our world is global, and failure to heed the needs of our fellow human beings will come back to bite us in the end.

Donna Morrissey’s story is tragic, and she is but one of so many. In our rush to get to the beaches and beauty salons and outdoor restaurants, let’s not forget these thousands of individuals and the need to do everything we can to turn out of office in November those whose ineptitude, craven self-interest, greed, mendacity, ignorance and corruption have brought our country, whatever its garden variety and remediable flaws, to the low point where we find ourselves today.

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