500,000. Light and Darkness

A high-contrast black-and-white photo shows clouds hiding the sun. Rays of the sun are emerging from the clouds.

100,000 deaths from COVID-19. On May 24, 2020, it was “an incalculable loss.” What Dr. Anthony Faucci predicted at the end of March 2020 became reality. To go from 400,000 to the current total took only a little more than a month.

A graphic on the front page of the New York Times represents deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. Each dot represents a person dead. The graph becomes progressively darker at the bottom, representing more recent times.

The New York Times on February 25 had a stunning graphic. At the top is a single dot, representing the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. With the first outbreak, in March 2020, the area becomes progressively darker. With summer, the image takes on lighter shades of gray… until the winter of 2020-2021. And the rate at which the hue gets darker increases. “From afar, the graphic on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times looks like a blur of gray, a cloudy gradient that slowly descends into a block of solid ink. Up close, it shows something much darker: close to 500,000 individual dots, each representing a single life lost in the United States to the coronavirus.” This powerful graphic simultaneously portrays both each individual and the staggering totals. Even in our age of all-too-common numbness, 500,000 “still has the power to shock.” Photos accompanying this article convey the “ripple effect of loss.”

Or, in the words of the Washington Post, a caravan of buses – each one holding 51 passengers – would stretch 94.7 miles, the highway distance from New York City to Philadelphia. Another way the article visualizes this number is through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. A profound monument, the 493-foot-long memorial lists the names of 58,000 U.S. soldiers who perished in that war. The tallest panels are 10 feet, 1.5 inches tall, each with 660 names on 132 lines. To list the names of the 500,000 dead from COVID-19, a monument of the same length would have to be more than 87 feet tall! To bury that number of people, we would need another Arlington National Cemetery.

In a departure from the enormity of these numbers, NBC News produced a stunning video highlighting a few of the individual people among them. Each had one a zest for life. But COVID-19 took them from us.