Nearly 500,000 U.S. deaths
Roughly one year after the first known death by the coronavirus in the United States, the country is poised to reach a staggering milestone: 500,000 deaths from the pandemic.
More Americans have now perished from Covid-19 than they did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. The United States accounts for just 4.25 percent of the global population, but makes up about 20 percent of the world’s known Covid deaths.
“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” said President Biden in a televised address before a candle lighting ceremony at the White House. “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. We must do so to honor the dead. But, equally important, to care for the living.”
(The president cited a death toll above 500,000, but a New York Times database has not yet reached that figure.)
In communities across the nation, the pandemic has left painfully empty spaces — at kitchen tables, church pews, workplaces and bar stools. My colleague Julie Bosman, a national reporter, wrote about some of the nearly 500,000 people who have died, and the people they left behind.
In Chicago, the Rev. Ezra Jones stands at his pulpit on Sundays, letting his eyes wander to the back row and the spot that once belonged to his uncle, Moses Jones. He liked to drive to church in his green Chevy Malibu, arrive early and chat with everybody before settling into his seat by the door. He died from the virus in April.
“I can still see him there,” Mr. Jones, the pastor, said. “It never goes away.”
In Anaheim, Calif., Monica Alvarez looks at the kitchen in the house that she shared with her parents and thinks of her father, Jose Roberto Alvarez, a maintenance supervisor who died from the virus in July. Before he got sick, he would come home from his workday and prepare an early-morning meal. Ms. Alvarez, beginning her workday as an accountant from her computer in the nearby dining room, would chat with him while he scrambled eggs for himself.
“With his passing, we’ve rearranged some rooms in the house,” she said. “I don’t work in the dining room anymore. I’m glad for that. I’m sad, but I’m glad. It’s a reminder, being there.”
The physical emptiness is next to Andrea Mulcahy on the couch in her house in Florida, where her husband, Tim, who worked at a cellular telephone company, loved to sit.
“We would hold hands, or sometimes I would put my hand on his leg,” Ms. Mulcahy said. Her husband, who believed that he contracted the virus from a co-worker, died in July at the age of 52.
She said it was difficult even to stop at the grocery store without her husband, who liked to goof around and entertain her while they shopped. Now whenever she sees a display of Oreos, his favorite cookies, she breaks down in tears.
Shannon Cummings lost her husband, Larry, a professor, nearly a year ago. She hasn’t moved his tote since his death, and ever since he died she has been sleeping on his side of the bed because “by doing so, this space isn’t empty,” she said.
This month, she finally sold his car that had been sitting unused for much of the past year.
“I didn’t realize how hard it would be to sell it,” she said. “It hit me in a way that surprised me and shocked me. It was admitting that he’s really not here.”
Visualizing the loss
In Sunday’s print version of The New York Times, half of the front page was dedicated to a graphic depicting the coronavirus death toll in the United States.
From afar, it looks like a blur of gray that descends into a dense block of ink. It contained nearly a half-million dots running down the length of the page and across three of its six columns — each representing a virus death in the country.
That page has been used to visualize the breadth of the pandemic before. When Covid-19 deaths in the United States reached 100,000 in May, the page was filled with names of those we had lost — nearly 1,000 of them, just 1 percent of the country’s toll at the time. And as that number approached 200,000, the lead photograph on the page showed the yard of an artist in Texas, who filled his lawn with a small flag for every life lost to the virus in his state.
But unlike the previous approaches, Sunday’s graphic depicts every single one of the fatalities. In a story about putting the graphic together, Lazaro Gamio, one of the graphics editors, said that part of the technique “is that it overwhelms you — because it should.”
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What you’re doing
Since my husband and I, both over 75, have been stuck at home since March, it’s difficult to be entertained. But a month ago, I discovered a tiny house spider in a poorly constructed web attached to the toilet brush and a wall in our bathroom. I thought it was a poor spot for sustenance so I began feeding her ants that I found in my house plants. Itsy Bitsy, as I call her, wraps the ants up in her web and seems quite pleased with them. Often this is the highlight of my day.
— Rosalind Andrews, Knoxville, Tenn.
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