A year ago, covid-19 had killed just a handful of people in the United States. Now, the pandemic’s official death toll equals the size of a major city, more than the population of Kansas City, Mo., and nearly as many as Atlanta or Sacramento.
It can be hard to grasp the enormity — almost half a million people, gone. What if we imagined them traveling as one group? Or killed in action? Or all buried together?
If 500,000 passengers traveled by bus …
An average motor coach — the kind of bus you would take from one city to another — holds 50 people. Transporting only the number of people who died last month would require dozens of buses.
If the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contained 500,000 names …
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall attempts to visually quantify the human toll of one of those wars.
Its two black granite walls rise out of the earth, each nearly 250 feet long, stretching higher until they meet in the center more than 10 feet aboveground. Etched into the surface are more than 58,000 names of men and women who died or remain missing in one of the country’s most divisive conflicts.
For a person standing at the memorial’s center, looking down one long wall of names and then the other, the scale of loss is staggering.
If 500,000 people were buried at Arlington …
Anyone who has visited the rolling slopes of Arlington National Cemetery has had the chilling feeling that the rows of white marble headstones may go on forever. The cemetery, which dates to the Civil War, is the final resting place of troops who fought in every major conflict, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
We are still in the teeth of the current pandemic; it took less than five weeks to go from 400,000 dead to 500,000, and health officials have said the actual toll is probably higher.
But numbers of new covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have recently begun to slow, and more than 1 million vaccine doses are going into American arms every day.
At some point, it will be time to try to visualize the end of this pandemic.