Darkness receded into light – in a matter of months.
January 2021 marked the deadliest stretch of the coronavirus pandemic. Every day loomed as a mass casualty event, with covid-19 stealing more than 4,000 lives in the United States some days. On three of those days, Washington Post journalists captured the scope and scale of the carnage, using all the tools of our trade to chronicle loss with few parallels in modern history. From a morgue in Pennsylvania to a funeral home in East Los Angeles, from a cemetery in Maryland to a reservation in Arizona, Post staff members witnessed the destruction wrought by a pathogen invisible to the human eye. As we wrote, “the torrent of death was inescapable.”
Fast forward to May 2021. The arrival of potent vaccines profoundly altered the course of the pandemic, with a shot of protection allowing families and friends, churchgoers and music aficionados to reunite after a year, or more, apart. Through video, and photos, and words, Post journalists chronicled the cacophonous joy unfolding on doorsteps and at the mahjong table.
But before those reunions could transpire, there was so much devastation – devastation producing unequal waves of loss. Using sophisticated data analysis and powerful graphics, The Post charted the course carved by the virus through communities of color, showing how Black, Hispanic and Asian communities had disproportionately borne the brunt of the pandemic. Post journalists scoured records on 5.8 million people who had tested positive for the virus, finding, for example, that African Americans were 37 percent more likely to die from covid-19 than their White counterparts.
And then there were the health-care workers, the professionals who stood at the rampart of the pandemic, the people who ran toward the viral fire even as millions of Americans remained sequestered in their homes. Especially in the early days of the health calamity, when the virus remained mysterious and murderous, their lives, too, were on the line – even as they sought to save the lives of their patients. Post reporters recounted the lives they led, and the yawning hole left by their deaths.
In a year of grim milestones, the day the U.S. death toll crested 500,000 was among the darkest. It was a figure incomprehensibly large. Post graphic journalists sought to bring understanding to the moment with a visual portrayal of what it meant to lose so many people to a single virus in a single year.
The Washington Post is honored to nominate our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic for the OJA Topical Reporting prize.