October of 2021 will be remembered for one very solemn fact, which is the month the United States surpassed the 700,000th death from COVID-19. They were our friends, family and neighbors. Let us remember that they represented each and every one of us.

It is unfortunate that as numbers have climbed during the worst pandemic of our lifetime, they begin to almost seem like just another daily statistic. As a society, it is easy to become relatively numb after living through a multiyear pandemic news cycle. Yet, we must remind ourselves that they were not just numbers.

Seven hundred thousand deaths from a virus, therefore, should reinvigorate our calls for answers, and perhaps accountability, if applicable. The question is, from where did this virus originate? There is a shortage of answers, but not theories. Unfortunately, theories are useless if they do not lead to evidence-based conclusions.

The problem, and what has defined the narrative thus far, is that the Chinese authorities have failed to fully cooperate with investigators, according to both scientific organizations and intelligence agencies. Of course, this does not automatically equate to China’s negligence, nor does it negate it. Many individuals, such as Michael Callahan, suggest that there is a need to build a more collaborative relationship with China to help combat inevitable future outbreaks and downplay renewed calls for greater pressure on China.

There is truth in that perspective. Global collaboration is productive, and any pressure on China should be measured. Hasty U.S. policy is counterproductive. That is the overarching point, however. How can we pursue effective policy without answers as to why 700,000 of our neighbors have passed? Second to combating this virus, a task with which the U.S excelled, our priority should be seeking truth until it is discovered.

Perhaps this virus was just one of the countless natural phenomena seen throughout world history, zoonotic transmission, where a virus is transferred between an animal and humans. An examination of world history has indeed shown that this is not new, making it quite plausible.

If not, and negligent practices in a research facility led to the outbreak, America needs to hold those accountable, accountable. This includes those who funded negligent organizations’ risky research without proper oversight in a country whose long-term goals are not in line with our own on the global stage. This stands true, regardless of whether scientists were attempting to achieve gain of function or not. Why is accountability good? Ensuring accountability is simply a deterrent against future negligence, if that is determined to be the cause.

It should be noted that the vast majority of the Chinese citizens are our friends and have suffered from the outbreak along with the rest of the world. Chinese Americans have also experienced hardships, which are, in a word, appalling. On the other hand, the Chinese Communist Party and government do not work for American interests. Their lack of commitment to transparency as investigators seek the origins of this pandemic is a reminder to remain cognizant of this fact.

The disheartening reality is that bringing a comprehensive answer to fruition will probably still take quite a bit of time. Research on past viral outbreaks has shown that it often requires a substantial amount of time to trace the origins of viruses, in part because of the challenges related to acquiring suitable samples.

Subjectivity and allegiances have all played a role in the narrative as well. There has been plenty of finger pointing in terms of where investigators should focus. Now, new research is arising that questions if the origins lie in China at all, which may bring us either closer to or further away from the truth. It is why evidence is paramount in the telling of the final narrative. Nonetheless, surpassing 700,000 deaths should only strengthen our resolve to find the answers, regardless of where the evidence leads. Anything less would be a true disservice to those who have perished.

DALE SCHLUNDT holds two master’s degrees, in adult education and history. He has taught at Northwest Vista College and Our Lady of the Lake University. He is currently a faculty member at Palo Alto College in San Antonio and co-chair for the Texas Regional Alignment Network.

Recommended for you

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!