“I MYSELF have held the hand of dying patients who are crying out for their family that they can’t see. I’ve taken care of co-workers as they fight for their lives on a ventilator, and knowing that they got sick because the hospital or their government hasn’t protected them.” Those words from Minnesota nurse Mary Turner about her experiences on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic were delivered on a day when nearly 2,000 Americans died from the virus and during the week when the United States reached the grim milestone of 250,000 people dead. She cried talking about the suffering during a conference call Wednesday with President-elect Joe Biden. He too seemed near tears.

More and more Americans are crying for lives lost. For people such as Tony Stempeck, 63, a restaurateur in Reno, Nev., who was an unfailing volunteer at his daughters’ schools. Amanda Bouffioux, 44, an administrative assistant in Alaska who was taking community college courses in hopes of one day owning her own business. Elvia Ramirez, just 17 and starting her senior year of high school on an Indian reservation in North Dakota. Choua Yang, 53, a Hmong refugee who fled Laos when the government fell to the communists and built a life in Minnesota as an educator helping other Hmong immigrants. Fred Dean, 68, renowned National Football League defensive end who helped lead the San Francisco 49ers to two championships. Rebecca Cryer, 73, who survived the explosion of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to continue her legal career and become a judge. Jeannette Williams-Parker, 48, the first — but tragically not the last — nurse to die in West Virginia from coronavirus complications.

In March, when the virus was still mainly limited to hot spots such as New York City, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted that it might kill up to 240,000 Americans. That mark, almost unimaginable at the time, has been passed as the pandemic rages across the country. No state is untouched; particularly hard hit have been the Midwest and the South.

The United States is not alone in the world in suffering the deadly health and economic effects of the pandemic, but it is almost singular in its government’s failure to mount a concerted effort to contain the virus. President Trump’s ineptitude borders on the criminal, and governors who went along with his happy talk about the virus just one day disappearing are now seeing residents in their states pay the price. Only now are some of them coming around to action, such as mask mandates.

There is promising news about coronavirus vaccines, but relief remains months away at best. With 253,000 dead — and the number sure to climb — health-care professionals on the front lines still don’t have the equipment they need or the cooperation from the public for whom they risk their lives. “We’re seeing the worst of the worst and these patients are dying, and you go home at the end of the night and you drive by bars and you drive by restaurants and they’re packed full and people aren’t wearing masks,” said Michelle Cavanaugh, a nurse at the Nebraska Medicine medical center in Omaha. “I wish that I could get people to see covid through my eyes.”

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