Lives cut short by Covid

Alyssa Fowers and Leslie Shapiro, for The Washington Post, used the stories of 114 individuals to show weekly Covid deaths. Each story is “cut short”, making the length of each fragment match counts for the corresponding week.

My brain was slightly confused by the metaphor at first. The lower the count, the more an individual’s story is cut short, but my intuition expected that more deaths would mean stories were cut short more.

That said, the sentiment is in the right place. Maybe the stories didn’t need to be tied to weekly counts? I’m imagining something closer to Periscopic’s piece from 2013 on lives cut short by guns.

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Behind the million

Sergio Peçanha and Yan Wu, for The Washington Post, used a combination unit chart with individual icons to represent the scale and weight of the near million Covid deaths in the United States.

Compare this with NYT’s particle-based charts and Axios’ scaled squares. It’s kind of in between the two in level of abstraction, but all three carry similar messages, with a focus on the one-million mark.

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Reaching 1 million deaths

The New York Times narrated the path to one million Covid deaths in the United States. They start with one million dots, each one representing a death. As you read, the dots arrange into trends and significant events over these past years.

As we have talked about before, it’s impossible to communicate the true weight of a single death, much less a million, but the individual dots provide a visual foundation to better understand abstract trends.

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Scale of one million deaths

The United States is about to reach one million confirmed Covid deaths, or already passed the mark if you consider excess deaths. There’s no way to truly feel that number, but Axios visualized the scale, with comparisons against city populations and historical events.

A diamond shape represents counts, and as you scroll, shapes fill the screen until you only see the tips. The shapes overflow beyond what we can or want to understand. The time series line on the bottom shows cumulative deaths over time, leading towards the one-million mark.

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Increasing mortality baseline

There was a time not that long ago when a hundred covid deaths seemed like a lot, but now the United States is getting closer to one million deaths with over a thousand deaths per day. The country is unmasking and re-opening. For The Atlantic, Ed Yong discusses the shifting baseline and our perception of these big numbers:

The United States reported more deaths from COVID-19 last Friday than deaths from Hurricane Katrina, more on any two recent weekdays than deaths during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more last month than deaths from flu in a bad season, and more in two years than deaths from HIV during the four decades of the AIDS epidemic. At least 953,000 Americans have died from COVID, and the true toll is likely even higher because many deaths went uncounted. COVID is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after only heart disease and cancer, which are both catchall terms for many distinct diseases. The sheer scale of the tragedy strains the moral imagination. On May 24, 2020, as the United States passed 100,000 recorded deaths, The New York Times filled its front page with the names of the dead, describing their loss as “incalculable.” Now the nation hurtles toward a milestone of 1 million. What is 10 times incalculable?

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Death rates by vaccination booster status

Our World in Data continues their important work on providing and showing up-to-date Covid data. Most recently, they updated death rates in Switzerland by vaccination plus booster status. The rates for the unvaccinated are expectedly much higher, but also the rates for those with a booster are multiples lower than those fully vaccinated with no booster.

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Clock shows percentage of life lived so far

Shortlife is a clock by artist Dries Depoorter that simply shows the percentage of your life lived, based on life expectancy from the World Health Organization. It has a warranty of six months.

I kind of want this? Please note: Results may vary.

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Increased maternal death in the United States

While still relatively rare, maternal mortality in the United States increased over the years. In most other developed countries, rates decreased over the same time period. From NYT Opinion:

Over the past two decades, maternal mortality has increased almost 60 percent. The United States is the only other Group of 7 country besides Canada to experience such a drastic decline in maternal health. (Canada saw a minor increase in pregnancy-related deaths.)

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Americans are dying too much

Derek Thompson for The Atlantic highlights recent research comparing mortality in America against rates in Europe:

According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at. Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality. This is America’s unsung death penalty, and it adds up. Average life expectancy surged above 80 years old in just about every Western European country in the 2010s, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, and Switzerland. In the U.S., by contrast, the average life span has never exceeded 79—and now it’s just taken a historic tumble.

Find the full NBER paper here.

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Black mortality gap

Anna Flagg, for NYT’s The Upshot, used dots arranged as a stacked area chart to show the difference between two mortality rates. Each dot represents 10 people, and they start as a random cloud. A transition to show rate by age lends focus to both an absolute and relative count.

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