Just a few weeks ago, Kem Kemp, a high school teacher in Houston, did not know anyone personally who had tested positive for the coronavirus. Then her roommate fell with a deep cough and was diagnosed with Covid-19. Her brother, a dentist in Amarillo, Texas, also tested positive. A neighbor fell ill with the virus. Two faculty members from the private school where she teaches have had to self-quarantine. And in recent days, two of the students she advises.
“We used to look at the numbers on the news,” said Ms. Kemp, 62. “Now it has started to seep into my neighborhood, my school, my home – wherever I exist.
As Covid-19 cases increase in almost every part of the country, researchers say the United States is rapidly approaching what could be a major tipping point – a pandemic so widespread that all Americans know someone who got infected. But, as evidenced by the polarized response to the virus, the public remains deeply divided on how to fight it and whether to fight it, and it is not clear whether seeing friends and relatives sick or dead will change that.
Many of those who have seen loved ones severely affected say they are taking increased precautions. Others, however, focus on how most people recover and avoid the virus – and calls for concerted efforts to combat it.
The United States surpassed the 11 million cases of the virus reported on Sunday, including one million in the past week alone. The daily average of new cases is up 80% from two weeks ago. More than 69,000 people were in US hospitals with Covid-19 on Saturday; more than 1,100 deaths are reported each day on average.
These alarming numbers – the world’s highest case count and death toll – underscore a reality found in small towns, big cities and sprawling suburbs: The coronavirus has become personal.
Researchers estimate that almost all Americans have someone in their social circle who has had the virus. About a third of the population knows someone – from a close relative to a neighbor to a co-worker or a friend of a friend – who has died from the virus, researchers say. But not everyone is afraid or takes such simple precautions as wearing a mask.
“As more and more people know someone who becomes ill and dies, more Americans are likely to take this disease seriously,” said Nicholas A. Christakis, Yale sociologist and author of “ Apollo’s Arrow ”, a new book on the impact of the virus. “But knowing the people who survived can lead people to misinterpret Covid as not being that bad.”
Ms Kemp, for her part, has become more vigilant since listening to her roommate herself cough to sleep at night. She wears a mask when she walks her dog and notices when others don’t. Wessie and John Dietz, of Sauk County, Wisconsin, have been wearing masks even in their cars since their 20-year-old grandson, an apprentice electrician, appears to have contracted the virus from a friend he had a tower. “I hadn’t even thought about it before that,” Ms. Dietz said.
And April Polk, of Memphis, urged all young people to adhere to restrictions to curb the spread of the virus since the death of her 24-year-old sister, Lameshia, this summer.
“I was one of those who didn’t take it seriously, and it took me losing my little sister to realize how real this virus is,” Ms. Polk said. “Every day we are in pain and we have to remember what happened and how it happened to him.
Nearly 2.2 million Americans have lost a close family member to Covid, research shows, with troubling emotional and financial effects for children, widows and parents. Kristin Urquiza, 39, of San Francisco, said she continued to have nightmares about her father’s death from the illness at the end of June in Arizona. Rosie Davis, a skin laser technician in Carrollton, Texas, has been taking grief training remotely since her mother died in May in a hospital: “I will never have a shutdown because I couldn’t be in. next to her when she passed away, ”Ms. Says Davis.
Kerry Knudson, of Sioux Falls, SD was “a wreck,” she said, after people around her died and her daughter, Jadyn, 13, contracted the virus. With the virus quickly seeping into Jadyn middle school three months later, Jadyn is still struggling with waves of exhaustion and fever.
But for Dennis Rohr 77, even learning that an acquaintance had died from Covid-19 days after sitting next to him at a table hasn’t changed his opinion that the disease is relatively mild.
His grandson’s family was infected, Mr Rohr said, as were his granddaughters. The guitarist and pianist of his rock ‘n’ roll band both recently contracted the virus, and one of them was hospitalized. But, he notes, most people recover.
“Fear and hysteria have created more problems than the virus itself,” said Mr. Rohr, a commissioner for the city of Mandan, North Dakota, the state with the highest rate of known cases in the country. “Most people I know have had sniffles and loss of taste.”
Ken Weigel, 57, also knows many people who have been infected with the coronavirus. The list includes himself, his wife and their son, as well as his 83-year-old mother, who is currently infected.
But there is more to consider, he said, than a simple calculation of the health risks, such as the side effects of the shutdown of the economy, the stifling of individual freedom and the isolation of people from each other.
“There are so many people dying from suicides, depression, alcoholism and drug overdoses, and that is just plain wrong,” said Mr Weigel, who works as a bale driver for Halliburton in the fields. Minot, ND
For some, the lessons learned have as much to do with faith as public health.
Gabriel Quintas accepts the death of his favorite uncle, Joel Quintas, from complications of Covid-19 at the age of 39 as God’s will and says he does not harbor anger or resentment. Joel, who worked at a bakery in Champaign, Ill., Was not the only one in his family to contract the coronavirus, but he was the only one to die from it in the United States. Gabriel’s own parents and two of his brothers have tested positive, as have Joel’s two young sons, although they have all made a full recovery.
“We don’t want to blame anyone,” said Gabriel, 20. “Something tragic has happened and we want to move on.”
Research has shown that the lessons people learn from their social media can be more powerful than anything they read on the news or receive from a government or educational institution they may not trust. . How Americans view the threat of the virus in the lives of friends and acquaintances will likely influence their willingness to be vaccinated, researchers said.
The perceived threat of the virus may also depend on a person’s proximity to someone who has died or suffered a long-term disability due to the virus. While about a third of Americans know someone who has died of Covid-19, only a small percentage can count a victim of the virus among their 20 closest contacts, according to a calculation by James Moody, director of an analysis center network at Duke University.
“It’s the old Facebook friends joke,” Dr. Moody said. “How many of them will help you move your sofa?” If you tell a friend of a friend of a deceased person, it doesn’t impact the way that tends to shape people’s behavior.
Mike Weinhaus, who was hospitalized with Covid-19 in St. Louis this spring along with his wife, has actively sought to share their uplifting tale with friends, family and a wider social network. His wife, Jane, went on a fan, then turned it off, then back on. Neither had any pre-existing conditions. Two of her children and a daughter-in-law also had Covid-19.
But Mr. Weinhaus knows that his personal experience can go no further than as a means of persuasion.
“When I see people who don’t practice social distancing and refuse to wear masks, I don’t go up to them and say, ‘You are making a big mistake,’ because you’re not going to win this battle, ‘ Said Mr. Weinhaus.
The virus tore Jennifer L. Stacy’s family apart over a nine-month period, with an older brother, younger sister and nephew among those infected. Ms Stacy’s immediate family went for testing on Friday after possible exposure of another family member.
Like many Americans seized by Covid-19, Ms Stacy, 57, a budget analyst, had learned to live with technology as a surrogate for visits to her mother in Charlottesville, Va., An hour’s drive home in Locust Grove , Va., She created a bubble with her husband and loved ones, forging a routine of sanitizer, masks and social distancing.
And when Virginia eased some restrictions over the summer, she feared it could eventually lead to an increase in cases. Now, as Ms Stacy awaits her own test results, the virus feels closer than ever – and the need for caution is more urgent.
“I used to hide myself and go to the grocery store,” she says. “Now I’m ordering online with curbside delivery,” she added, “I still didn’t think Covid would come to my house.”
Reporting was contributed by Julie bosman, Jack healy, Melina Delkic, Dan Levin, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Rick rojas, Simon romero, John eligon and Mitch smith.