As the US breaks grim record after grim record, regularly hitting new highs for daily cases of Covid-19, it’s difficult to conceive of the scale of human loss. On Dec. 9, the country reported more than 3,000 deaths in a single day, surpassing the death toll of 9/11, as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield pointed out.
The true toll of the pandemic can still feel curiously distant, especially for those who haven’t been directly impacted by a Covid-19 death. But that number is dwindling. While the US epidemic was first concentrated in large cities, by now it has reached every nook and cranny of the nation—and more and more Americans are experiencing the loss of life first-hand. On Dec. 10, the US broke a record among records: 1,030 counties reported their highest-ever daily death toll, according to a analysis of data from The New York Times.
That record has been broken weekly since the middle of October. Back then, about 500 of the country’s more than 3,000 counties set daily records for deaths. (That includes counties in territories like Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.) Since then, the figure has doubled.
In other words, a third of the country’s locales are currently experiencing more death than at any other point in the pandemic. Covid-19’s effects are being felt in communities large and small. The peak on Dec. 10 includes Stonewall, Texas, with a population of 1,350, and Los Angeles, California with a population of 10 million.
That could have implications for pandemic response, including the public’s willingness to get a Covid-19 vaccine. For Americans living in cities like New York, the reality of the pandemic has been obvious since March, when round-the-clock sirens and nightly cheers for healthcare workers made the virus’s impact tangible even for those who escaped infection.
That first-hand experience may have made it easier for people there to accept public health measures like social distancing and mandatory masks. If seeing is believing, a lot more Americans are about to become believers.