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98,000 and Counting

2020-05-26 10:34:10
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Nationwide death patterns tend to be remarkably stable. On a typical summer day in recent years, about 7,500 Americans have died. On a typical winter day, slightly more than 8,000 have.

Either way, the toll is greater than the combined death count from every war that the U.S. has fought in the past 60 years: Vietnam, Iraq, Iraq again, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

On Sunday, The Times devoted its entire front page and a few inside pages to the names of virus victims: John Schoffstall, 41, Terre Haute, Ind., volunteer youth football coach … Myra Janet Headley, 72, Memphis, loved Jesus, Elvis, Dr Pepper and her family … Freddy Rodriguez Sr., 89, Denver, played the saxophone at Denver’s oldest jazz club for 40 years …

The idea came from Simone Landon, an editor on the Graphics desk, who wanted to find a way to note both the scale of the tragedy and the humanity of those lost. (Here are more details about the project.)

The Times printed only 1,000 names, a tiny fraction of the total death toll. To list all of the Americans who had died from the virus would have required every page of the Sunday paper — and the paper would have needed to be more than twice as thick as usual.

Memorial Day crowds flocked to beaches, amusement parks, lakes and boardwalks on the first long weekend since the pandemic began.

“The big takeaway is that not all exposures are the same,” Apoorva Mandavilli of The Times’s science desk said. “Beaches, as crowded as they might be, are still probably safer than restaurants, bars or churches. However, that’s not a free pass, either, if you’re sitting close to someone and engaging in prolonged conversation. Experts have likened it to cigarette smoke. If you’re close enough to feel or smell the smoke, you might also be exposed to the virus.”

Christopher Flavelle, a Times climate reporter, recently asked Samantha Montano, an emergency-management expert at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, what was making officials nervous this year. Her answer: The effect that the coronavirus will have on the volunteers who normally respond to storms. Many volunteers won’t be able to fly to disaster zones, and those who are able to go will have a harder time interacting with people.

“Volunteers do everything,” she said — handing out donations, moving debris off the roads, gutting houses, helping survivors navigate state and federal aid programs.

Bill Buford has had an eclectic literary career that’s included eight years as the fiction editor of The New Yorker and a gritty book about British soccer hooligans. But his main subject in recent years has been food, and his new book, “Dirt,” is a memoir of his time learning to be a cook in Lyon, often called France’s gastronomic capital.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Jim Dwyer, a Times columnist, recommends an essay by Jessica Jiang in the publication YCteen: “The quarantine opens high school students’ eyes to their teachers’ private lives — filled with getting ready for classes, reading papers, prepping for tests. And a dog named Pete. Lovely essay on unsung labor by essential folks.”


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