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Good morning. Americans ventured out this weekend, both safely and unsafely. California’s economy is struggling. And the official virus death toll is probably about 30,000 too low.
Nationwide death patterns tend to be remarkably stable. On a typical summer day in recent years, about 7,500 Americans have died. On a typical winter day, slightly more than 8,000 have.
About two months ago, though, the numbers began to change drastically. Beginning in mid-March, deaths surged across much of the country, peaking above 10,000 per day. This increase — from the coronavirus, of course — had little precedent, outside of wars and the flu pandemic of 1918-19.
Sometime in the next few days, the official coronavirus death count will likely exceed 100,000. The true count is even higher — probably closer to 130,000. This larger number includes people who had the virus but weren’t diagnosed, as well as those who died for indirect reasons, such as delaying medical treatment for other illnesses.
Either way, the toll is greater than the combined death count from every war that the U.S. has fought in the past 60 years: Vietnam, Iraq, Iraq again, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
On Sunday, The Times devoted its entire front page and a few inside pages to the names of virus victims: John Schoffstall, 41, Terre Haute, Ind., volunteer youth football coach … Myra Janet Headley, 72, Memphis, loved Jesus, Elvis, Dr Pepper and her family … Freddy Rodriguez Sr., 89, Denver, played the saxophone at Denver’s oldest jazz club for 40 years …
The idea came from Simone Landon, an editor on the Graphics desk, who wanted to find a way to note both the scale of the tragedy and the humanity of those lost. (Here are more details about the project.)
The Times printed only 1,000 names, a tiny fraction of the total death toll. To list all of the Americans who had died from the virus would have required every page of the Sunday paper — and the paper would have needed to be more than twice as thick as usual.
Related: Elisabeth Rosenthal’s mother died of “suspected Covid-19,” but her death will almost certainly not be added to the official tally. “Unfortunately, counting Covid deaths and cases has been turned into a battle of semantics, chance, bureaucracy, politics and immediate circumstance, rather than science,” writes Rosenthal, a doctor and longtime health care journalist.
FOUR MORE BIG STORIES
1. An uneasy start to summer
Memorial Day crowds flocked to beaches, amusement parks, lakes and boardwalks on the first long weekend since the pandemic began.
“The big takeaway is that not all exposures are the same,” Apoorva Mandavilli of The Times’s science desk said. “Beaches, as crowded as they might be, are still probably safer than restaurants, bars or churches. However, that’s not a free pass, either, if you’re sitting close to someone and engaging in prolonged conversation. Experts have likened it to cigarette smoke. If you’re close enough to feel or smell the smoke, you might also be exposed to the virus.”
2. The red/blue virus divide
President Trump did not wear a mask on a Memorial Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Joe Biden did wear one, during his first public appearance since March. The visual contrast highlights a growing divide: The coronavirus has thus far been deadliest in areas and communities that tend to support Democrats, Jennifer Medina and Robert Gebeloff reported.
3. A meatpacking mystery
Dozens of meatpacking plants are reopening, even as the extent of the viral outbreaks at many remains unknown. Meatpacking companies and local officials in some places have chosen to withhold the data, partly to avoid bad publicity, The Times reports. “At this point, we are not doing anything to cast them in a bad light,” a county health official in Colorado wrote in an email, referring to a Cargill plant.
4. California’s economic nightmare
Large parts of California shut down earlier than other parts of the country, and the state’s death toll has remained relatively low as a result. But the hit to the economy — especially to tourism, entertainment, ports and education — has been even harsher than it has elsewhere. The unemployment rate is above 20 percent, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom — higher than the 14.7 percent national rate.
Here’s what else is happening
BACK STORY: HURRICANE SEASON
The federal government’s annual hurricane forecast for the Atlantic Ocean came out on Thursday, and it’s worrisome. A typical hurricane season has 12 named storms. This year’s season — which officially starts June 1 — is expected to have between 13 and 19.
Christopher Flavelle, a Times climate reporter, recently asked Samantha Montano, an emergency-management expert at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, what was making officials nervous this year. Her answer: The effect that the coronavirus will have on the volunteers who normally respond to storms. Many volunteers won’t be able to fly to disaster zones, and those who are able to go will have a harder time interacting with people.
“Volunteers do everything,” she said — handing out donations, moving debris off the roads, gutting houses, helping survivors navigate state and federal aid programs.
Christopher has written a story about the many ways that the virus is undermining disaster response. The story, he said, “made me think of an aging sedan, its parts failing in sequence. And we keep trying to make it go faster.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT, PLANT
As the meat industry struggles to respond to the outbreak, it’s a good time to be in the plant-based “meat” business. Sales have surged, and makers of the vegan products are increasing production to keep up with demand.
If cooking with meat substitutes at home seems intimidating, we have a guide. When done right, the faux-meat can work in many recipes that call for ground beef, including chili and Sloppy Joes. Or try these vegan Turkish kebabs that are just as good on their own as they are tucked into wraps or pitas.
Travel to Lyon, by book
Bill Buford has had an eclectic literary career that’s included eight years as the fiction editor of The New Yorker and a gritty book about British soccer hooligans. But his main subject in recent years has been food, and his new book, “Dirt,” is a memoir of his time learning to be a cook in Lyon, often called France’s gastronomic capital.
In a review, Dwight Garner, a Times book critic, writes, “Watching Buford choose a topic for scrutiny is like watching an enormous bodybuilder single out one muscle, on the mountain range of his or her arms, for a laser-focused burn.” The New Yorker has published a related essay by Buford, on the art of the baguette.
As New Yorkers fled their apartments in recent weeks, many abandoned house plants outside their apartment buildings. In response, plant caretakers of all kinds, from good Samaritans to hired professionals, are dealing with the remnants: One plant enthusiast — who chose not to leave the city out of concern for his 60 plants — is adopting some of the plants that people have left behind on the curb.
Develop a green thumb: Whether you’re attempting to grow a mini vegetable patch for the first time or are a seasoned gardener wondering about your blooms, our gardening expert has tackled some of your most common questions.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Jim Dwyer, a Times columnist, recommends an essay by Jessica Jiang in the publication YCteen: “The quarantine opens high school students’ eyes to their teachers’ private lives — filled with getting ready for classes, reading papers, prepping for tests. And a dog named Pete. Lovely essay on unsung labor by essential folks.”
Lauren Leatherby, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].