FARGO — The United States passed a grim milestone in COVID-19 deaths this week that should cause local virus-deniers to keep their mouths shut.

They won't, of course, but we can dream.

Maybe the milestone can at least help put this pandemic in a familiar frame of reference.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 18, more than 248,000 Americans had died of COVID.

By the end of the week, we'll be well past a quarter-million COVID deaths.

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Here's why that number is important locally: It is more than all the people who live in Cass County, N.D., and Clay County, Minn.

The home counties of Fargo and Moorhead have a combined population of about 246,000.

You want to put the COVID death toll in local perspective? Wipe out every person living in Cass and Clay counties. Poof. Gone. That's how many of your fellow citizens have died from COVID.

Every person in Fargo. Dead.

Every person in Moorhead. Dead.

Every person in West Fargo. Dead.

Every person in Dilworth. Dead.

Every person in Hitterdal, Harwood, Sabin, Mapleton, Felton and Gardner.

Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead and dead.

That's a heck of a toll for a virus that isn't real, that's just going to disappear, that the media will stop talking about the day after the election.

One of the problems of this pandemic, at least so far, is the seeming denial that it's having any real impact on lives close to home. The COVID deniers have thrived on believing it's somebody else's problem in the big city or on the coasts, or that it's exclusively senior citizens who are dying, or that the death rate is but a fraction of the population.

As if that makes the deaths more acceptable, or less painful.

That's the disconnect.

So how can we help those whose bubble has not yet been punctured by reality? Maybe with numbers such as these.

Stack up the bodies of every person living in Cass and Clay counties today — man, woman and child — and that's the death toll of COVID so far.

You want more?

The rolling seven-day average of COVID deaths nationwide was just shy of 1,200. That's 1,200 Americans dying every day from COVID.

That's roughly the population of Glyndon, Minn., just east of Dilworth in Clay County, dying every day. That's every person living in Mapleton, N.D., just west of West Fargo in Cass County, dying every day.

A small town gone. Every day.

You want more?

Some projections have the U.S. death toll from COVID hitting 400,000 by March.

How many nearby counties would have to be wiped out to equal that figure?

Cass, Traill, Richland and Stutsman counties in North Dakota, plus Clay, Otter Tail, Becker, Wilkin, Norman and Traverse counties in Minnesota.

The total population of those 10 counties equals about 400,000 people.

Imagine all those people dead and you will imagine the projected COVID death toll by March.

Minimize all you wish, COVID deniers. Erasing every person from 10 counties doesn't seem minimal at all.

Readers can reach Forum News Service columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com or (701) 451-5655