It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of 1 million deaths: it’s simply beyond the scope of how we understand information. We can try by comparing it to things we know: 1 million people is roughly the population of Stockholm, Sweden and twice the number of people who died in the Second Gulf War.
But comparison can also be trivializing. A million people are dead. Their hopes and dreams have been extinguished, their families forever marked by Covid. And with the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, we’re on pace to see that number continue to grow in the weeks and months ahead of us.
One of those million people was my dear dad, Mark Urquiza. When he died on June 30th, Covid cases in the United States were skyrocketing due to Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s cavalier reopening; we now know this was driven by blatant lies to the public. The consequences of this position have been disastrous. In the wake of my father’s death, I chose to be public with my grief and clear in my message: My father was robbed and it didn’t have to be this way.
While the pandemic has reached all corners of the planet, the United States and Brazil are disproportionately responsible for the number of deaths relative to their population. The actions — and inactions — of their governments should be of great concern to the rest of the world. If these nations don’t shape up and fast, this crisis will drag on much longer than necessary, further jeopardizing people’s lives and our economic recovery.
The United States represents 4 percent of the world’s population but represents 20 percent of the number of deaths; Brazil represents 3 percent of the world’s population but represents 14 percent of deaths. Together, these two nations represent 34 percent of coronavirus deaths and only 7 percent of the world's population. As we’ve globally banded together to hold other dictators accountable in recent history, we should hold these modern-day authoritarians to account for these colossal failures.
Sadly, it is not the authoritarian leaders but the vulnerable communities within these countries who are shouldering the burden of this pandemic. People of color in the United States, like my dad, are more likely to contract the virus and die from it. In Brazil, the pandemic is ravaging indigenous communities throughout the Amazon rainforest; the same indigenous communities that the Bolsanaro government is eager to evict from their ancestral lands in order to bulldoze down and turn into cattle and soy fields at great detriment to the environment.
One way we can begin to reckon with this moment — as well as honor and recognize those who have perished — is to stop pretending this isn’t happening. Here in the US, Trump continues to hold dangerous, crowded, and maskless indoor rallies, his attempt to be re-elected apparently more important to him than the lives of his own constituents. In Brazil, Bolsanoro is no better.
The world and its people must step up and lead.This starts with giving ourselves permission to acknowledge that world leaders failed in their mission to contain this virus and as a result millions of people will die. It is time for a collective mourning and recognition of the shared grief this tragedy has created.
We are used to disasters striking suddenly: Two airplanes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 in New York City. A lone gunman entered an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and killed 26 people, including 20 kindergarteners. For each of these catastrophes and countless others, we took time to acknowledge what had happened, to honor those who had passed, and — in the case of September 11th — we vowed to “never forget.”
2,777 Americans died on September 11, 2020. The US has now lost 200,000 people in the last seven months, and I’m on a quest to ensure that we “never forget” them, nor what brought us to this colossal death toll, either.
My dad was looking forward to retirement in a few months. He wanted to get a part-time job in a grocery store where he could still do his favorite thing: interact with people. I will never forget him. Nor will I forget people like Texas health care worker Isabelle Papadimitriou, who delayed her own retirement to stay on the front lines and support her patients as cases skyrocketed in Texas. I want to make sure you never do, either.
Marked By Covid, a non-profit that I co-founded after my father’s death to elevate the truth about Covid-19 and save lives, is collaborating with other organizations across the country to host a Covid Week of Mourning from October 4 to 11. We must acknowledge this loss if we are to ever begin to heal from the trauma caused by a pandemic allowed to spin out of control due to failed leadership.
During the Week of Mourning, people will be hosting vigils and I’ll be livestreaming a daily service to remember those who have been lost and to demand that our leaders do more.
Learn more about Marked by Covid and the Week of Mourning here