January 2021History

300,000: COVID-19 by the numbers

In mid-December the United States passed a grim milestone: 300,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country had suffered for nine months not only from a devastating pandemic that threatened both the health and livelihoods of millions of Americans but also from a president who failed to show a shred of empathy for a single lost life, demeaned the public-health professionals trying to combat the pandemic, peddled quack cures, held super-spreader events that infected countless of his own supporters and sickened his own staff, undermined the efforts of states to control the disease and even denied the existence of a pandemic. Worse leadership in a public emergency is difficult to imagine. If he had been actively working for the pandemic, he could scarcely have done more damage.

But how many deaths is 300,000, really? Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said that “the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.” A number like 300,000 is huge, perhaps too big to visualize. Or is it? Here are some comparisons that perhaps make the number more relatable:

  • as many people as were killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, with enough people left for the bombing of another Nagasaki-sized city.
  • as many people as would have been killed in 100 9/11 attacks.
  • as many lives lost as in 163 Hurricane Katrinas.
  • more than all deaths in motor vehicle crashes in the United States from 2012 through 2019.
  • more than the number of Americans who died by homicide from 2002 through 2019.
  • as many Americans as were killed by seasonal flu from 2011 through 2019.
  • as many Americans as those who died from AIDS during the eighth worst years of the epidemic (1990-97), and more than six times the number who died in its worst year (48,979 in 1995).
  • more than the number of Americans who were killed in all wars, except for the Civil War and World War II. This includes combined deaths from all major wars (the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine War, World War I, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq) and lower-casualty interventions and conflicts. (This includes soldiers killed in Indian wars but not Native Americans.)
  • based on historic mortality trends, likely to rank COVID-19 as the third-largest cause of death in the United States in 2020, behind only heart disease and cancer.
  • five fully loaded jumbo jets crashed, killing everyone on board — every day for a year  (based on the capacity of an A320, the most commonly used large jetliner).
  • all people in St. Louis, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh were killed.
  • the entire population of Barbados was wiped out.
  • a filled-to-capacity Nationals Park collapsed, killing everyone inside. Then the park was rebuilt, and collapsed again, killing another capacity crowd. And so on, until it happened seven times.

With the end of Trump’s misrule and a presumably competent and more caring administration on the way, as well as the advent of vaccines, we can hope we won’t have to make comparisons to events killing half a million people. A total of 400,000 or more deaths looks unavoidable at this point.

The pandemic surely would have been a catastrophic event no matter the White House leadership. But it took a Trump to make the United States number one in infections and deaths. Leadership matters.

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