Almost 400,000: Think about it

Almost 400,000: Think about it

Kaylyn Aulick

Anyone who understands the news understands that there have been nearly 400,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States alone. That is an astounding number, but few people understand what it really means. In order to grasp just how many 400,000 people really is, I decided to make a dot on a piece of paper for every person in the United States who has died of COVID-19. 

   Initially, I thought my journey would be time consuming but easy, seeing as all I had to do was touch marker to paper many, many times. I began chipping away at the large number. 399,999, 399,998, 399,997, 399,996… And then I realized what I had gotten myself into. 

   The task was exhausting. I fought to stay focused on my goal, but the number started getting bigger. Although I continued to have fewer dots left, the more I made them, the more I understood how many I had remaining. 

   I had 12 colors. I drew 2,400 dots on a normal piece of printer paper, 200 per color. I had to count by 50s for every dot because otherwise I would start to lose track because already, the number got too big. I did this on three simple pieces of paper. Each one took an hour. When the fourth came along, I was exhausted. I had moved my hand up and down so many times I had begun to feel like a robot. I made 200 dots, and I could not go on. 

   I gave up on the 7,400th dot. I stopped counting on the 7,400th person. I got through about 2 percent of the people. I have finally grasped the idea of how many people this country has lost from COVID-19. 

   Completing each of the dots would have meant nearly 16,667 papers filled with dots. That would have taken nearly 167 hours. That is equivalent to working a 40 hour work week for an entire month. 

   Texan Shane Reilly has tried to do a similar task in his yard. He has placed over 25,000 flags in his yard, one for every Texan who has died of COVID-19. While he was working with a smaller number, his results were ultimately just as stunning. Looking into Reilly’s yard and his sea of flags is a truly heart wrenching task. As the number continues to climb, his lawn becomes less and less green as it fills with more white, pink, and red with flags.

   The number of deaths is stunning no matter how it is put into perspective. Walking 400,000 steps would take you 2,000 miles. 

   Lining up each person who has died from head to toe would take you all the way to Lexington, Kentucky. Imagine making that sorrowful drive. 

   Driving 400,000 miles averaging 60 miles per hour would take 18 years. It would take an entire childhood.

   How devastating is it that so many people still fail to understand the losses we have endured this year? Every single dot I tried to make was someone’s mom, friend, child, dad, or loved one. My heart hurts in my chest because I understand so much better what it means for this country to have lost 400,000 people. 

   If more people tried to understand what that number truly means, imagine how different the country would be. Perhaps we would feel the importance of masks. Perhaps we would figure out how to maintain social distancing. Perhaps our hearts would be a little heavier with the understanding of who we have lost. 

   I invite you to try in your own way to understand what 400,000 means. Make as many dots as you can. Go on a road trip. Write 400,000 words. Try to understand America’s losses.