The Atlantic Daily: America Still Isn’t Ready for the Next Pandemic

That the U.S. has now logged more than 900,000 deaths due to COVID is somehow both unimaginable and unsurprising.

A person wearing a face covering walks past a white flag memorial installation outside Griffith Observatory honoring the nearly 27,000 Los Angeles County residents who have died from COVID-19 on November 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama / Getty

Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.


An estimated 900,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in the United States alone.

That the U.S. has now logged more than 900,000 deaths due to COVID is somehow both unimaginable and unsurprising. You may already be numb to the milestones. But this particular one is worth observing not only for what it represents—including 100,000 lost since mid-December—but also for what it foreshadows.

The country’s death toll seems bound to hit 1 million before the year is done. My colleague Ed Yong told me that he’d be “shocked” if it didn’t—and that, in fact, we might have hit that number already, given that the official tally is likely an undercount. I asked Ed, whose early journalism on the pandemic proved prescient, to share some thoughts for this moment.

Caroline Mimbs Nyce: Looking back, is this where you thought we’d be at this point in the country’s outbreak?

Ed Yong: In April 2020, I wrote that the pandemic would likely last for a couple of years. I didn’t predict that far more people would die after vaccines became widely available than before.

Caroline: The U.S. has seen more deaths than any other country. What does that say about our handling of this pandemic?

Ed: America’s mishandling of the pandemic has been a bipartisan failure. Both the Trump and Biden administrations failed to adequately protect vulnerable people. Both fell prey to individualistic thinking, instead of recognizing the inherently collective nature of the pandemic problem. Both wrongly assumed that biomedical solutions like vaccines could end the pandemic alone, without addressing the deep-seated social vulnerabilities that make the U.S. so weak against a fast-spreading virus.

Caroline: This is a grim milestone. What are you reflecting on in this moment?

Yong: Every recent administration has faced a new or reemerging infectious threat. Obama had four in eight years—swine flu, Ebola, MERS, and Zika. Trump had COVID. Biden is still dealing with that, and might well have something else before his term is over, given the rate at which these threats arise. America wasn’t ready in 2020. We still aren’t ready.

Further reading: We must resist becoming numb, Clint Smith wrote in December, after 800,000 had died. Plus: The American workplace isn’t built to handle this much grief.

The rest of the news in three sentences:

(1) New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut will end their mask mandates in schools next month.

(2) Ottawa has entered a state of emergency as thousands continue to protest Canada’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.

(3) The National Archives recovered documents that were improperly taken from the White House and stored at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a new report.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Catch up on the Olympics: Check out our collection of standout photography from the Games’ opening weekend.

A break from the news:

We are living in the age of unique baby names.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.