As the U.S. Crosses 500,000 Deaths from COVID-19, These 9 Documentaries Offer Context

A still of the cemetery where a nurse featured in the October 2020 documentary "America's Medical Supply Crisis" is buried.

A still of the cemetery where a nurse featured in the October 2020 documentary "America's Medical Supply Crisis" is buried.

February 22, 2021

Approximately one year after the first known U.S. death from COVID-19, the U.S. has reached a grim threshold: a death toll that now exceeds 500,000, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID tracker.

Research suggests that the actual count is likely higher and that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous, Latino and other communities of color in the U.S. is delivering stark consequences. A recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences projected that the reduction in life expectancy for Black and Latino people in America in 2020 would end up being three to four times greater than the reduction in life expectancy for white people, reflecting what the authors called “persistent structural inequalities.”

A CDC report released last week based on provisional data from the first six months of 2020 found similar disparities, with life expectancy dropping by .8 years for non-Hispanic white people, 1.9 years for Hispanic people and 2.7 years for non-Hispanic Black people.

FRONTLINE has been chronicling developments in the coronavirus pandemic for much of the past year. The following films from FRONTLINE’s online collection of streaming documentaries provide context on how we reached this point, how COVID spread across the country and the world, and how the pandemic has impacted communities in America that were already vulnerable.

China’s COVID Secrets pieces together the untold story of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, revealing the gulf between what Chinese officials knew and what they told the world.

In this February 2021 documentary, Chinese scientists and doctors, international disease experts and health officials reveal missed opportunities to suppress the outbreak and lessons for the world.

America’s Medical Supply Crisis investigates why the U.S. was left scrambling for critical medical equipment as the coronavirus swept the country.

From N95 masks to ventilators, FRONTLINE investigated the fragmented global medical supply chain and the deadly consequences of equipment shortages in this October 2020 documentary with the Associated Press and the Global Reporting Centre.

Growing Up Poor in America looks at how the pandemic has impacted kids living in poverty.

Their families were already struggling to make ends meet. Then came the coronavirus. This September 2020 documentary followed children in three Ohio families one Black, one mixed-race and one white as the COVID-19 pandemic amplified their struggles to stay afloat.

Love, Life & the Virus tells the story of a Guatemalan immigrant mother’s fight to survive COVID and see her newborn baby.

This August 2020 documentary, an emotional look at one family’s quest to be reunited and the community members who helped make it possible, is also available with subtitles en español.

Undocumented in the Pandemic looks at a Honduran immigrant’s struggle to keep her children safe and housed, while her husband is detained by ICE in a facility where COVID is spreading.

With The Marshall Project and the Pulitzer Center, this August 2020 film provides a window into the realities of navigating the pandemic while undocumented.

COVID’s Hidden Toll investigates how the coronavirus has impacted essential agriculture workers, who pick and process the food we eat.

This July 2020 documentary follows some of the coronavirus pandemic’s invisible victims, including crucial farm and meat-packing workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, who lack protections and have been getting sick.

The Virus: What Went Wrong? looks at why America’s leaders failed to prepare for the pandemic, despite repeated warnings.

From June 2020, this investigation identifies fateful missteps in the world’s — and the Trump administration’s — early responses to the pandemic.

Inside Italy’s COVID War follows a doctor and her colleagues on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, as Italy’s crisis was peaking.

This May 2020 film captures medical professionals waging a harrowing fight against the disease as it overwhelmed a hospital in northern Italy and put an 18-year-old on a ventilator.

Coronavirus Pandemic looks at what happens when politics and science collide.

This April 2020 investigation of the American response to COVID-19 contrasts Washington state’s approach to the virus with that of Washington, D.C.

Beyond the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of additional documentaries are available in FRONTLINE’s online collection of streaming films and on the PBS Video App.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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