Carly Philpott, Editor-in-Chief

Today, Saturday, September 19, America surpassed 200,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Over 200,000 people dead in just 7 months. Each one with a family, a story, a life that mattered.

I remember when we passed 100 deaths, 1,000, 5,000, 100,000. Each time, I hoped that this would be the last milestone we passed. Each time, it wasn’t.

It did not have to be this bad.

Canada, with a population less the 10 percent the size of America’s, has just over 9,000 people dead. New Zealand has 25 dead. Taiwan has just 7 – and is far enough along that it was able to hold a concert on Aug. 8 with over 10,000 attendees.

In all of these nations, people worked together to defeat the common enemy. The government imposed the necessary restrictions, and their constituents followed through. They wore masks, socially distanced, and stayed home.

New Zealand, for example, had a quick and effective response to COVID that involved lockdowns, border shutdowns, and expansive testing as early as February, says the WHO. But these actions relied on people following through and being responsible, and they did. As a result, New Zealand has one of the lowest death and case rates in the world.

The US has had a uniquely awful response to the pandemic. It wasn’t just on the government’s level. Throughout this whole thing, I have been appalled at people’s unwillingness to work together and to think of anyone but themselves.

Entire rallies were held to protest quarantine orders (including one in Denver on April 19), creating mini-outbreaks. People refused to wear masks, which don’t just serve to protect the wearer, but also the people around them.

Almost every day, I would see another person I knew on Instagram out in big groups, unmasked. No one seemed to care that they were putting not only themselves, but so many others at risk.

There seemed to be a common loss of empathy – so few apparently cared about others, and because of this, we fell into a losing battle.

Even here at Creek, multiple COVID cases were linked to parties hosted by students, leading half of the school to convert to online schooling temporarily.

Our school is one of many facing similar predicaments.

We didn’t come together. We didn’t unite over tragedy.

We failed as a nation.

This year has been one of pain and heartache for so many. I know I’m lucky in that I haven’t lost anyone to the novel coronavirus, but so many others have. There wouldn’t have been a scenario in which we didn’t lose anybody, and I know that. But this magnitude of death and disease didn’t have to happen. We could have done better.

This isn’t over. We will lose more people. We won’t get back the ones we’ve lost. But we do have the chance to make it better.

It’s time for everyone to realize that wearing a mask is not optional. Social distancing – when possible – is not optional. Caring about other people is not optional.

I hope that we take this as a lesson going forward. We can’t accomplish anything if we only serve ourselves. This nation was founded in teamwork, each person a cog in the larger machine. Nothing good comes out of not working together.

Now, more than ever, we are at a turning point. We have two options: either we unite moving forward, care about each other, and hopefully prevent another 200,000 people from dying. Or we can continue on the same path, watching the country fall around us, leading ourselves further into disaster.

We must come together as a nation. We must have empathy for the other. We must stop this pandemic from killing us all, because we are already dying. It’s only a matter of time.

If everyone considered the effect of their actions on others and just wore a mask, it wouldn’t have gotten this bad. If we start now, it won’t continue to get worse.

200,000 people are dead, and it didn’t have to be this bad. But it also doesn’t have to get worse. Please, wear your masks, minimize your contact with others, and be responsible. The nation is relying on you.