Sherri Rasmussen, 51, of Lancaster, Ohio, was one. She is survived by a daughter who said she would always remember the day her mother gave her purse to a woman who complimented it in a CVS store, saying, “I want to pay it forward.” And then there was Pedro Ramirez, 47, who loved his Puerto Rican homeland, salsa dancing and restoring Volkswagen bugs. Days before, he told his wife, Shawna Ramirez, about the vaccine and how people like him, with chronic medical issues, would be getting it soon.
“I told him I loved him and how sorry I was that he had to be in the hospital by himself,” said Ms. Ramirez, 52, who works in a bridal salon in Macon, Ga.
The surge in deaths reflects how much faster Americans have spread the virus to one another since late September, when the number of cases identified daily had fallen to below 40,000. Since early in the pandemic, deaths have closely tracked cases, with about 1.5 percent of cases ending in death three to four weeks later.
A range of factors — including financial pressure to return to workplaces, the politicization of mask-wearing and a collective surrender to the desire for social contact — has driven the number of new cases being reported to more than 200,000 a day. At the same time, the pace of death has also quickened: The first 100,000 U.S. deaths were confirmed by May 27; it then took four months for the nation to reach 200,000 deaths, and three more months to surpass 300,000 deaths on Dec. 14. By contrast, the latest wrenching 100,000-death count has occurred over a span of only five weeks.
In 30 states, at least one in a thousand residents has died from the virus, with nine of those states — Alabama, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Texas and Wisconsin — crossing the threshold since Jan. 1, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Last week, more than 4,000 deaths were reported on some days, an average of nearly three deaths each minute. Nearly one-quarter of Los Angeles County’s total Covid-19 deaths have been recorded in the past two weeks.
Because the virus’s collective toll is taken from so many corners of the country, it can often feel fragmented — as though, said Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, “this thing that is happening to hundreds of thousands of families is still somehow under the surface.”
But the lives of the people who died on one day, and those they left behind, reflect the individual holes in families, friendships and communities that make up an extraordinary national loss.