The Other Columbus: 132,000

Scott Woods
Ohio Stadium, also known as the Horseshoe, the Shoe, and the House That Harley Built, is on the campus of The Ohio State University.  Photographed Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

As of July 6, the United States had logged 132,000 deaths from COVID-19. That statistic hasn’t changed much about how we’re handling the pandemic as a country, and I imagine it’s because it doesn’t seem personal to many Americans yet. No one they know has died. It is hard for some people to empathize when they have no way to connect to the data. So let’s stop using numbers alone. Let us use the primary tool shared by poetry and math: comparison.

132,000 deaths is like watching every man, woman and child in Burbank, California drop dead (102,511). It is as if West Palm Beach, Florida (111,955) evaporated, as if Cambridge, Massachusetts (118,927) winked out of existence. It is as if Berkeley, California (121,363) or Green Bay, Wisconsin (104,578) broke off and sank into their respective bays. It is as if Ann Arbor, Michigan (119,980) disappeared. But since many of you are petty Buckeye fans and all things Michigan are verboten, think of it like the record-setting 2016 attendance at the Horseshoe (110,045), with an Ohio University (Athens) student body kicker on top (20,073), falling over in the stands, dead. 

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At a rate of 225 new deaths per day – a daily low we haven’t hit since late March and which is currently on the rise again – in another month that’s like losing everyone in Charleston, South Carolina (137,566). In five weeks that’s like saying goodbye to Dayton (140,407). A week after that it’s Pasadena, California (141,029). A week after that it’s Syracuse, New York (142,327). A week after that it makes Savannah, Georgia (144,464) – America’s most haunted city – live up to its reputation.

If that’s all too depressing to consider, I’m sure that Ohio’s 2,927 statewide deaths will seem like a reprieve. That is until you consider that it is akin to packing the house for a concert at the Ohio Theatre and everybody falling face-forward in their seats. And that’s our big theater. The Palace Theatre seats 200 fewer people, so that would be like everyone with a ticket plus the staff. Worse, it would be like selling every one of the 925 seats in the Southern Theatre, then vanishing everyone, then packing it again and vanishing them, and packing it a third time and vanishing them. If you were in attendance at a TEDx talk at the Vern Riffe Center’s Jo Ann Davidson Theatre, you’d be part of another triple vanishing. If you ever deigned to cross I-71 into the King-Lincoln District to catch a show at the Lincoln Theatre, it’s like being vanished five times over.

There exists a mathematical city comprised of the holes left behind by each loss. It is a municipality that grows every day by a high school graduation class. It is a lightless city, miles wide, covered in people-shaped shadows burned onto its streets and structures. That is the city we are building with our recalcitrance, our boredom, our vanity, our inability to gauge a first world problem against real injustices.