“He’d wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning to get to the hospital for rounds, so he could be at his office when it opened. He never took a break.” That was Carlos Araujo Preza’s daughter talking about her 51-year-old father, a pulmonologist in Texas who had been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic before he died of the virus Nov. 30.

“My mom was the smiling face, the one that everybody loved.” That is how Debra Ivory, 62, owner of a popular barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City, was remembered by her son after she died of COVID-19 on Dec. 13.

“I told him I loved him and how sorry I was that he had to be in the hospital by himself.” That was the wife of Pedro Ramirez recounting the final hours of her 47-year-old husband before he died of the coronavirus Jan. 4.

It has been a year since the first coronavirus case in the U.S. was reported. The toll of the pandemic is often recorded with the horrifying numbers — more than 400,000 people dead, daily death tolls as high as 4,000 — and grisly comparisons — more deaths in a day than people killed on 9/11 or at Pearl Harbor, eight times more total deaths than of Americans killed in a decade of fighting in Vietnam.

The numbers can become numbing. But each loss is its own heartbreaking story.

No part of the country, no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group, has been spared. We had hoped the first grim milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in May would have served as a wake-up call to the need to change habits and policies. Instead — thanks to the abdication of national and state leadership — it took four months for the country to reach 200,000 deaths, three more months to exceed 300,000 deaths and now just five short weeks to hit 400,000 deaths.

The fact effective vaccines are now being rolled out, albeit not as quickly as needed, and that Wednesday saw the inauguration of a president who has promised a plan of action against the pandemic are reasons for some hope. It is important, though, that we never forget the precious lives lost and how many could have been saved if government had not failed.

This was first published by The Washington Post and distributed by The Associated Press.


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