There are countless ways to measure deaths, especially such an ominous and closely watched tally as the 200,000 COVID-19 fatalities the United States reached on Tuesday.
None come close to capturing the personal devastation for those 200,654 families who lost loved ones, many of them elderly, unable to hold a hand for the last time and say goodbye.
None accurately capture the way the nation, and each state and city, did or did not prepare for the disease. Connecticut’s portion of those deaths, 4,496 lives, is double our share based on population — all of that difference, and then some, coming in nursing homes in the first several weeks of the crisis.
Unlike most mass tragedies, we could not, we cannot, use cause and effect to predict what might happen. Researchers at the University of Washington predict 400,000 deaths by Jan. 1 — a guess based on the idea that cold weather will bring a spike even after most of the nation spiked this summer.
Still, we can compare the number to other countries and see that this nation, with about 4 percent of the world’s population, accounts for more than one in every five deaths, 21 percent. That, come to think of it, loosely mirrors U.S. share of global wealth, perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not.
We can see how deaths have hit Black Americans hardest, more than double the death rate of white Americans. In Connecticut, the Black death rate is about 1.5 times the white rate, still reflecting the racial inequity that has emerged as the dominant crisis it always was under the surface.
We can compare the grim tally to what we know: The national total is equal to the combined populations of New Haven, Greenwich and Beacon Falls.
And we can compare it to expectations. Back in on March 29 when the pandemic was new, President Donald Trump picked up on a forecast of 2.2 million deaths for the United States, if no actions were taken to stop the scourge.
“So you’re talking about 2.2 million deaths, 2.2 million people from this,” Trump said at the time, according to the Washington Post and many other publications. “And so if we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — it’s a horrible number, maybe even less — but to 100,000. So we have between 100 and 200,000, and we altogether have done a very good job.”
That of course didn’t happen. The 200,000 threshold became a sort of political benchmark. Trump downplayed the crisis publicly, squandering weeks of preparation time even as recorded conversations he had with journalist and author Bob Woodward show that he called the coronavirus ominous.
Deception? Incomptence? Malice? Democrats are claiming all of that ahead of the Nov. 3 election, especially as Trump insists on holding rallies without distancing or masks — leading some of his supporters to their deaths so he can have a photo-op.
Trump defenders might slam the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, who took strong and swift action but still hold the highest death rates in the nation — despite now having among the lowest rates of illness.
“Connecticut has made great progress combating COVID-19 since we were hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for Gov. Ned Lamont and a point man for COVID response. “Today's numbers across the nation are a sobering reminder that this isn’t over and that we need to continue to follow the guidance that will help keep Connecticut safe: Stay home if you feel sick, wear masks, keep your distance and wash your hands regularly.”
Connecticut’s total amounts to 1,248 deaths for every 1 million people. The U.S. total as of Tuesday is 607 per 1 million. But we don’t know how accurate that is. A July 1 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared death totals in every state in six previous years with 2020 deaths to show that many states might not be fully counting their COVID deaths — instead reporting spikes in pneumonia or other causes.
Connecticut, state figures show, measures up with a full accounting when we compare deaths from past years. And so comparisons across states need to be used with caution,” Geballe said.
Bluntly, we might be well beyond 200,000 COVID deaths as a nation.
Despute the flaws and shortfalls, we study the deaths and and how to slow them — which we have done as a nation, as the death rate as a percent of cases goes down. But in the end, the tally has its real meaning in the unfathomable, unmeasurable tragedy of lives cut short, whether they be at age 45 or 85.
This much is clear: We are still in the middle, the luxury of looking back not yet in our sights.