The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion 400,000 dead. Never forget these precious lives lost.

A covid-19 memorial service at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on Tuesday.
A covid-19 memorial service at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on Tuesday. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)
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“HE’D WAKE up at 3 or 4 in the morning to get to the hospital for rounds, so he could be at his office when it opened. He never took a break.” That was Dr. Carlos Araujo Preza’s daughter talking about her 51-year-old father, a pulmonologist in Texas who had been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic before he died of covid-19 on Nov. 30.

“My mom was the smiling face, the one that everybody loved.” That is how Debra Ivory, 62, owner of a popular barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City, was remembered by her son after she died of covid-19 on Dec. 13.

“I told him I loved him and how sorry I was that he had to be in the hospital by himself.” That was the wife of Pedro Ramirez recounting her 47-year-old husband’s final hours before he died of the coronavirus on Jan. 4.

“My beautiful, sassy, smart loving Granddaughter has gone home to be with Jesus.” That is how the grandmother of Honestie Hodges announced the death of her granddaughter, whose handcuffing when she was 11 caused a national uproar over policing of Black children. She was 14 when she died of covid-19 on Nov. 22.

It has been a year since the first coronavirus case in the United States was reported. The toll of the pandemic is often recorded with the horrifying numbers — more than 400,000 people dead, daily death tolls as high as 4,000 — and grisly comparisons — more deaths in a day than people killed on 9/11 or at Pearl Harbor, eight times more total deaths than of Americans in a decade of fighting in Vietnam. The numbers can become numbing. But each loss is its own heartbreaking story.

No part of the country, no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group, has been spared. We had hoped that the first grim milestone of 100,000 covid-19 deaths reached in May would have served as a wake-up call to the need to change habits and policies. Instead — thanks to the abdication of national and state leadership — it took four months for the country to reach 200,000 deaths, three more months to exceed 300,000 deaths and now just five short weeks to hit 400,000 deaths. It is estimated that 1 in every 14 Americans has been infected with the virus, and experts are warning of a new, more contagious variant that could make those numbers even worse.

That effective vaccines are now being rolled out, albeit not as quickly as needed, and that Wednesday saw the inauguration of a president who has promised a plan of action against the pandemic are reasons for some hope. It is important, though, that we never forget the precious lives lost and how many could have been saved if government had not failed.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Biden’s vaccination plans are good. What matters now is acting on them quickly.

Eugene Robinson: Trump leaves a scorched landscape. But Biden brings hope at last.

Paul Waldman: Goodbye, Donald Trump. You were the worst of us.

Max Boot: Trump was the worst president ever. But his failures set up Biden for success.

Leana S. Wen: On vaccines, America must balance speed and equity