One day in the pandemic: Portraits of lives cut short.

People in the United States have been dying of Covid-19 at the highest rate of the pandemic. The new milestone of 400,000 deaths, reached on Tuesday, is the equivalent of wiping out a city the size of Oakland, Calif. It is on the order of Sept. 11 deaths more than a hundred times over. At that scale, the human brain compensates with a defense that political psychologists call “psychic numbing.”

On one single day in a monthlong period during which the United States lost more people to Covid-19 than in any other during the pandemic, Stacey Williams, a beloved youth football coach and father of five in Florida, was among more than 2,000 Americans with the virus to die.

Along with Mr. Williams, Jose H. Garcia, 59, the longtime chief of the Roma Police Department in the South Texas border region who was known to friends and family as Beto, died of Covid-19 complications. So did Nelson Prentice Bowsher II of Washington, D.C., 80, an affordable-housing advocate whose family’s feed mill business was a fixture of South Bend, Ind., through the 1960s.


Combing through hundreds of local obituaries, county records and interviews with families, New York Times reporters were able to piece together a tapestry of some of the lives lost on that day, Jan. 4.

Sherri Rasmussen, 51, of Lancaster, Ohio, was one. She is survived by a daughter who said she will always remember the day her mother gave her purse to a woman who complimented it in a CVS store, saying, “I want to pay it forward.”

And then there was Pedro Ramirez, 47, who loved his Puerto Rican homeland, salsa dancing and restoring Volkswagen bugs. Days before, he told his wife, Shawna Rodriguez, about the vaccine and how people like him, with chronic medical issues, would be getting it soon.

“I told him I loved him and how sorry I was that he had to be in the hospital by himself,” said Ms. Ramirez, 52, who works in a bridal salon in Macon, Ga.

The surge in deaths reflects how much faster Americans have spread the virus to one another since late September, when the number of cases identified daily had fallen to below 40,000. Since early in the pandemic, deaths have closely tracked cases, with about 1.5 percent of cases ending in death three to four weeks later.

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