Remembering One in One Million

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Covid-19 has taken the lives of nearly one million people in the United States. A number like that is difficult to comprehend. One million individuals — mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, children, friends — as represented by dots on a new Times map, make up that staggering, sobering statistic. We asked Times journalists who have covered the pandemic to share one moment that changed their approach to reporting — or one story they will never forget. Read their responses below.

In December 2020, flush with hope that the newly authorized Covid vaccines would defang the coronavirus, I went to visit my in-laws in Rhode Island. Two days later, my editor called: Britain was being walloped by a highly contagious new variant — later known as Alpha — forcing the country to impose its most stringent lockdown since the start of the pandemic. Another variant, later named Beta, was spreading in South Africa. I’ll never forget how somber the experts I called that day sounded. That’s when I realized that the virus would be with us much longer than we had hoped — and perhaps forever.
— Apoorva Mandavilli, science and global health reporter

One of the most indelible memories I have from covering the pandemic was a rainy day in April 2020. People waited — many for their first time — in a food bank line that stretched for blocks down Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. The queue was punctuated by workers wheeling simple wooden coffins from a Muslim funeral home. At the end of April, it would tend to as many as 15 funerals in a day. Nearby on the street, a refrigerated truck used as a makeshift morgue stood just steps away from the huge pallets of food outside the food bank. It was a solemn scene; a collision of all the burdens we would bear in those dark days. But there was also something life-affirming in watching the workers and volunteers persevering to help their fellow New Yorkers through such a dark time.
— Todd Heisler, staff photographer

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Throughout the pandemic, thousands of readers have written into the Coronavirus Briefing newsletter with intimate stories of illness and loss. Many have stuck with me, including a note from Amanda Marie in Atlanta. In December 2020, she wrote in with a provocative headline: “Covid is my friend.” Her 90-year-old husband was in hospice care, and the pandemic allowed her time “at home, just the two of us, for whatever time we have left together and we are grateful.” Four months later, Amanda sent me an update: Her husband had died the previous week. “Now, I have no shoulder to cry on, no hand to hold, no hugs. Flowers and food are left on the doorstep,” she wrote. “Covid is cruel in bereavement. No, Covid, you are no longer my friend.”
— Jonathan Wolfe, reporter on the briefings team and a writer of the Coronavirus Briefing newsletter

At the beginning of the pandemic, when we started tracking cases and deaths, we were working every day, nonstop, including weekends, to maintain and publish accurate Covid case counts, since no official source was doing so. At some point, about eight months in, next to a line of code listing the years “2021, 2022,” a co-worker had written this note: “I pray we never have to add to this array.” Well, of course we did have to update the list. I would frequently think about this note and how we’ve changed from covering this pandemic as a breaking news story to covering it as a dominant story, to now covering it as one story among many that will never truly end.
— Albert Sun, graphics editor, who worked on Covid-19 data collection

I remember a time I was wrong: I’ve worked on The Times’s coronavirus tracker since March 2020, designing and building the charts and tables that I depend on to understand the pandemic, just like our readers do. In March 2021, I was invited to give a talk to Times subscribers and explain to them how we had built and maintained the virus tracker. At the end of the talk, the moderator asked me about the future of our tracking efforts. That was a hopeful time: Vaccines were rolling out, and cases had decreased significantly from the awful winter wave. I remember saying that, given the increases in vaccinations, we were thinking about how to design for the “endgame” of the pandemic. If only. Covering the virus has humbled me — and made me realize how little I can really predict.
— Aliza Aufrichtig, graphics editor, who worked on the Covid case tracker