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500,000, 500,000, 500,000, 500,000.

500,000, 500,000, 500,000, 500,000.

Keep chanting that number until it sinks in to your very soul and you grasp the nearly unimaginable magnitude of horror and human devastation, if you can, because that is how many people have died in the U.S. alone, so far, of the COVID-19 plague. That includes men, women, boys, girls, grandfathers, grandmothers. This is not the Dark Ages, it is the most technologically advanced period in human history. Most of the dead Americans have been 65 and older but people of color are also dying at disproportionate rates: Deaths among Black Americans are 1.9 times higher than among non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics and Latinos 2.3 times higher, and Native Americans 2.4 times higher.

500,000. 500,000. 500,000. 500,000.

That is the number of poor souls in the U.S. who have died of the terrible virus that the former, former president infamously said would magically disappear and that many of his followers still believe is a worldwide hoax. Last Feb. 26, there were only 15 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and the former, former president predicted that the number of infections “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” If the current rate continues, the cost of the “Chinavirus or Kungflu” hoax in human terms will surpass the number of people who succumbed the U.S. of cancer in 2018, an estimated 609,640 people.

500,000. 500,000. 500,000, 500,000.

It’s 52 times the population of Hackettstown. Put in other words, you could destroy the entire population of Morris County at 491,845 people and still have 8,155 left to kill somewhere else. It also equates to about half of Rhode Island’s current population of 1.059 million.

500,000. 500,000. 500,000. 500,000.

The distance from New Jersey to California is 2,845 miles. If every death equaled one mile, you could travel to California 175 times before you’d equal the 500,000 lives lost. You could take a round trip to the Moon, which is an average of 238,855 miles away from Earth, before you’d equal the number of lives lost for each mile.

500,000. 500,000, 500,000. 500,000.

If you counted every minute for every death, you wouldn’t reach 500,000 until 347 days or just 18 days shy of one year.

500,000. 500,000. 500,000. 500,000.

My neighbor up the street died of the plague and he was a volunteer fireman, husband, father, son. You could say that 500,000 neighbors have fallen to the pandemic and more than 500,000 husbands, wives, children and friends will forever mourn the losses.

500,000. 500,000. 500,000. 500,000.

For all of the Vietnam War, 58,220 U.S. military members died. You could have nearly 10 Vietnam Wars before the deaths reached the number who have fallen to the coronavirus, so far, so far, so far. In World War II, “only” 405,399 American military members died.

500,000. 500,000. 500,000. 500,000.

That’s 500,000 people who will not enjoy the spring or a cold beer or a trip to the Jersey shore to escape a 100 degree summer day or even see a sunrise or listen to a warbler warble, ever.

Lest we lose perspective, realize that it has been worse and could get even worse but also that some of the world’s most infamous pandemics dwarfed the COVID-19.

The mother of all plagues throughout history is the wrongly-named Spanish Flu of 1918–1920 that was responsible for an estimated 100 million deaths from the South Seas to the North Pole. The spread was largely sped by soldiers who got the virus while living in cramped and unhealthy quarters during World War I.

The AIDS pandemic started in 1981 and continues to the present day, with an estimated 35 million lives taken around the world since it was first identified.

The Antonine Plague from 165 to 180 A.D. infected Roman soldiers returning to the empire and may have killed more than 5 million people. That would be 10 times the COVID-19 victims, making it look like a bad cold.

The Plague of Justinian from 541–542 A.D., ravaged the Byzantine empire with up to 10 percent of the world’s population dying. The total world population isn’t clear but clear the plague that was named after Justinian the Great, the Eastern Roman emperor, was very bad news to a lot of Romans.

The Black Death of 1346–1353 may have eliminated more than half of Europe’s population, an unspecified number. The Cocoliztli epidemic struck from 1545–1548 and wiped out 15 million people in Mexico and Central America.

Then there are a cluster of plagues, known as “The American Plagues,” which brought deadly diseases to the new world by European explorers, eventually spurring the holocaust of the Inca and Aztec civilizations.

The Asian Flu of 1957–1958 started in China and killed 1 million people in the late 1950s.

The Russian plague was raging from 1770–1772, killed as many as 100,000 people and resulted in widespread rioting. A century later, Russia was the starting point of the Flu pandemic of 1889–1890 which claimed an estimated 1 million victims starting in Russia and spreading through much of Europe and the rest of the world.

One of the earliest known epidemics arose soon after a war between Athens and Sparta ended, around 430 B.C. The plague didn’t subside for five years and killed as many as 100,000 people, still only a fifth of the current scourge.

The last outbreak of the Black Death, known as the Great Plague of London, struck 1665–1666 and killed about 100,000 people but the Londoners’ bad luck still hadn’t ended as the Great Fire of London started on Sept. 2,1666, and destroyed much of London.

The 2009 swine flu pandemic was caused by a new strain of H1N1 that originated in Mexico in the spring of 2009 before spreading to the rest of the world, killing 151,700 to 575,400 people.

The West African Ebola epidemic of 2014–2016 killed 11,325 people, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

500,000. 500,000, 500,000, 500,000.

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer