By John McCallum
Managing Editor 

Impact of 500,000 lessons learned

Write to the Point


Last updated 2/25/2021 at 5:45pm

Monday marked an event I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime.

Somewhere in the late morning, the United States crossed the threshold of 500,000 of our fellow American men and women killed by the coronavirus. If you had told me even five years ago, let alone 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago that we would experience a loss of American lives of that magnitude attributable to one cause, I would have thought you were talking about some kind of armed conflict.

500,000 lives gone. And as you read this, that number is marching steadily — albeit a bit more slowly now — upward.

It’s hard for most of us to wrap our minds around such a staggering figure, even if we are inclined to do so. We’re a society that places things in context through personal experience or visualization. Large numbers such as 500,000 are difficult to comprehend without this type of aid.

Saying COVID-19 deaths now surpass the total of Americans killed in World War II, or any other combination of wars and calamities or other health concerns doesn’t help. Seeing the 192,000 American flags arranged on the Capitol Mall for President Joe Biden’s inauguration provided some semblance of the scale of the pandemic’s impact — but that was when the death toll had just topped 400,000.

I know there is a good slice of people in our country who don’t believe COVID-19 is any worse than the common flu, or that it’s made up and the cases and deaths aren’t real. There are also people who don’t believe we walked on the Moon, that the Holocaust was real or that Elvis is really dead.

Unless the virus impacts you personally, we have a hard time coming to grips with it. And the pandemic has impacted all of us in some way — physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.

My family has felt all of those. From the death of a relative to several friends becoming very sick to social isolation from trying to do our part to minimize the spread to losing almost half of our income from the financial impacts, yeah, I get it.

As discouraging as that is, what I have witnessed in response to the pandemic from my fellow citizens is even more so. It’s hard for me to fathom that there are individuals who treat this disease so flippantly, that seem to brush aside so many deaths as either not real or of no significance.

As President Biden said in his address Monday recognizing the infamous milestone, these people who died were not ordinary Americans, “they were extraordinary Americans.” Each one meant something to at least someone, if not many someones.

This has been a learning experience, at least for myself. It’s been discouraging in some aspects, and not just through bearing witness to over 500,000 dead in one year from one event.

There’s a saying that the true measure of a person or a people’s character can be seen when faced with a crisis. I believe that’s true, and COVID-19 has evidenced that.

This crisis has shown me some people talk about community, coming together to support each other when the chips are down, but when called upon to make a sacrifice of themselves — even something so insignificant as to wear a piece of cloth over their mouth and nose to protect themselves and others in congregate situations — it’s hard to do.

I’ve witnessed people sacrifice their truly God-given humanity on the false-god altar of individual rights. I’ve watched others trivialize illness and death on a scale not seen in over 100 years in this country.

But I’ve also seen the good in many others, who have acted opposite to what I said above, and continue to do so, no matter the costs to themselves. I’ve witnessed acts of individuals who truly understand that the essence of community, togetherness is to occasionally have to sacrifice some individualism to benefit others.

Both of these realizations will impact me and my relations going forward. It’s tragic 500,000-plus had to die in order to learn this lesson.

John McCallum can be reached at

Author Bio

John McCallum, Managing Editor

John McCallum is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Cheney Free Press for over 20 years. He has received 10 Washington Newspaper Publisher Association awards for journalism and photography, including first place awards for Best Investigative, Best News and back-to-back awards in Best Breaking News categories. He has been serving as editor of the Spokane Valley News Herald since March 2020.

Phone: 509-235-6184
Contact John McCallum


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