The coronavirus death toll, in historical perspective

If a picture speaks a thousand words, what do numbers say?

More than 63,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 since the novel coronavirus hit our shores, and the count steadily grows.

Already, the number surpasses Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

Each victim represents a single life. But the sum fails to measure the toll that extends beyond one person. Each of those individuals connected to someone — as a parent, child, neighbor, co-worker, loved one.

The log of our great catastrophes takes in disasters both natural and man-made. We stack them up, place them side by side, but there is no comparing. Each is unique and uniquely tragic.

Numbers lend perspective. They allow for rankings. But they can’t measure the true extent of loss.

Pictures are insufficient. Words fail.

— Mark Z. Barabak

Pearl Harbor, more than 2,400 dead

Dec. 7, 1941

A boat rescues sailors from the battleship West Virginia in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

(Getty Images)


Terrorist attacks on 9/11, nearly 3,000 dead

Sept. 11, 2001

Terrorist attacks

The World Trade Center towers burn. The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil also hit the Pentagon, and a plane went down in a field near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers fought back against the men who planned to use it as a weapon aimed at Washington.

(Robert Clark / Associated Press)


Korean War, nearly 37,000 dead


Army artillery

American troops in the Korean War in 1950.

(Universal History Archive)


Vietnam War, more than 58,000 U.S. dead



U.S. Marines in Vietnam in 1965.

(Eddie Adams / Associated Press)



February 2020 – ___________

Virus Outbreak , New York, United States - 09 Apr 2020

Workers bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island in the Bronx on April 9. Hart Island has long served as the city’s potter’s field; now New York is using it to inter unclaimed victims of COVID-19.

(John Minchillo / Associated Press)


World War I, more than 116,000 dead


World War I

U.S. troops on an unidentified battlefield in Europe during World War I.

(Associated Press)


World War II, more than 400,000 dead


Joe Rosenthal

U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

(Joe Rosenthal / Associated Press)


Spanish flu epidemic, 675,000 dead


Spanish flu

Patients crowd an emergency hospital near Ft. Riley, Kan., in 1918.

(Associated Press)