U.S. news organizations focus on lives lost in the pandemic

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FILE - In this April 23, 2020 photo, Isaac Lopez, 19, second from left, holds a photo of his father, Tomas Lopez, as he poses for a photo with his mother, Antonia, second from right; his brother, Elias, 12, left; and his sister Elda, 16, right, at their home in Pacific, Wash. Tomas, 44, who died of COVID-19 on April 2, was a beloved fixture wherever he sold tacos from his family's bright green taco truck. The passage of a milestone 100,000 lives lost due to the coronavirus in the United States has brought attention to how news organizations are trying to tell the stories behind the numbers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

NEW YORK – Many are familiar with some of the bold-faced names of people who died of COVID-19 — musician John Prine, NFL kicker Tom Dempsey, former Stanford University President Donald Kennedy and music producer Hal Willner.

Most of the pandemic's victims aren't known beyond family, friends and neighbors: Tomas Lopez, who sold tacos from a truck in Seattle; Long Island supermarket worker Gladys Cortes; realtor Bob Barnum of St. Petersburg, Florida; Mary Louise Brown Morgan of New Orleans, who exercised with her friends in the “Silver Slippers” three times a week.

The milestone recently reached was a number simple to emblazon in newspaper, website and television headlines — 100,000 people in the United States dead from the new coronavirus.

Yet since the pandemic started, the nation's obituary writers have tried to tell the world about Lopez, Morgan and thousands like them, to make clear there's a life behind every number.

“I think people are interested — I know I am — in the lives of people who are not public figures who are dying from this,” said Mo Rocca of CBS News, who did two pre-coronavirus seasons of his “Mobituaries” podcast exploring lives lost.

He's been too busy with his day job on “CBS Sunday Morning” to get started on a third season, but when he does, he expects to explore that interest.

“There's this cliche about somebody being ‘taken from us,’ and I don't think it's a cliche in this case because it does feel like these lives have been taken from us," Rocca said.

Adam Bernstein, who oversees obituaries at The Washington Post, said the workload has easily doubled since the virus began and that the significance of obituaries right now is measured not just by the loss of victims but the way so many of us have been forced to live.