The first reaction most of us had to the virus was shock. “Did you hear about all those cruise ship passengers?” we asked one another. Then the deaths at the nursing home. Then our attention shifted to Italy. Then New York City.
Our brains ping-ponged around through case counts, hot spots, positivity rates, unemployment rates, and stock market losses.
We can no longer absorb or even make sense of the information glut. Our over-loaded brains have no conception of what the numbers represent any longer. And that number fatigue is leading to our complacency.
But imagine with me, if you will, the response our nation would have had to one of our cities being wiped off the map. Every. Citizen. Dead. At. Once.
The outpouring of love and assistance for families of the lost would be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Oh wait, that’s not true. It would be like when half the small town of West, Texas blew up in a fertilizer fire or when the town of Paradise, California burned last year. We would be shocked, then we would take action, sending money, clothes, and stuffed toys for surviving toddlers. The Red Cross would rush in. Governors would take action to help anyone who needed it. Insurance companies would hire extra people to process claims. Volunteers would feed those left behind. It’s not likely we’d bicker over doing what needed to be done. Because that’s who we are when disaster happens.
The problem is, though, we’ve never had a slow-motion disaster. It robs us of the ability to put the loss in perspective. We can’t see the damage or feel the pain.
Even worse, our leaders can’t envision the 212,000 lives lost, and certainly not the loss of those still to come.
I wondered what cities we might have already mourned had the dead all lived in one city, so I turned to a list of the top 300 most populous cities in the country. Here is what I found.
What city could we have lost today?
Today, as we hit 212,000 lives lost from COVID, it might have been Santa Clarita, California, number 107 on the list. (Maybe we can take comfort in the fact that we haven’t hit numbers that reflect any city in the top 100 most populous, but not much.)
Earlier this month we might have lost Birmingham, Oxnard, Rochester, or Grand Rapids. Gone. Every mother, father, grandfather, child, aunt, uncle, and cousin. Every living soul in one of those cities could be gone.
Want to say your goodbyes to these cities?
These cities would have fallen weeks or months ago. I have some favorite places on this list. How about you?
Salt Lake City 200,000 people
Yonkers 200,000 people
Amarillo 199,000 people
Huntington Beach 199,000 people
Glendale, CA 199,000 people
Little Rock 197,000 people
Akron 197,000 people
Augusta, GA 197,000 people
Mobile 188,000 people
Knoxville 187,000 people
Shreveport 187,000 people
Sioux Falls 183,000 people
Chattanooga 182,000 people
Ft. Lauderdale 182,000 people
Ft. Collins 170,000 people
Alexandria VA 159,000 people
Lakewood, CO 157,000 people
Bridgeport, CT 144,000 people
Savannah 144,000 people
Pasadena, CA 141,000 people
Dayton, OH 140,000 people
Waco 139,000 people
Charleston, SC 137,000 people
Cedar Rapids 133,000 people
New Haven 130,000 people
Lansing 118,000 people
Clearwater, FL 116,000 people
Pompano Beach, FL 112,000 people
Peoria 110,417 people
Billings 109,000 people
Ventura 109,000 people
Boulder 105,000 people
Las Cruces, NM 103,000 people
South Bend 102,000 people
What comes next?
Later this week we’re looking at a number equal to Des Moines. Soon after that, it’s Boise, then Norfolk, followed by Buffalo and Lubbock.
Hopefully, it’ll take a while longer to lose the equivalent of Toledo at 272,000, but once we do, Newark and Orlando aren’t far behind.
And when we reach the next big milestone of 300,000 deaths? Picture Pittsburgh as a ghost town, empty and lifeless.
If trends hold, it won’t take long after the century mark to reach a death toll equal to Corpus Christi, Texas population 325,000, followed by Anaheim at 350,000.
Then at 400,000 deaths, we match roughly the number of people living in Tampa or Tulsa.
Think cities, not numbers
My aim in writing this was merely to help us envision the reality. Earlier today, I read a comment on social media that I felt summed up our current position with a very simple phrase that I’m not hearing from very many people. That phrase was “despite extreme measures.” Let that sink in for a second.
We have lost 212,000 American lives while suffering the hardships of lockdowns and isolation. How high would the death toll have been had we not? How high will it go now that we have lost our ability to understand, to feel, what the numbers represent?
Hang onto this list and the next time you start to feel inconvenienced or tired of it all, pick a city (or God forbid, two, as you can already do with the bottom five or six on the list) and imagine it empty.