Counting the dead is one of the first, somber steps in reckoning with an event of enormous tragic scope, be it war, a natural disaster or a pandemic.

This dark but necessary arithmetic has become all too routine during the covid-19 outbreak.

The total U.S death toll has now surpassed 450,000.

Each death is unique, a devastating loss that ripples through a family, a network, a community. But in the aggregate, the national death toll can feel abstract, and its repetition in the news can become numbing. Journalists, commentators and public officials are left searching for new ways to convey the deadliness of this pathogen, and the significance of its mounting fatality rate.

Many have turned to history, citing Pearl Harbor (2,403 killed) or the 9/11 attacks (at least

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