Chronicle of America’s ruthless COVID toll

The deadliest day in a horrific week in April 2020, COVID claimed the lives of 816 people in New York City alone. Lost in the pandemic data blizzard that has swirled since is the fact that 43-year-old Fernando Morales was one of them.

Two years and nearly a million deaths later, his brother, Adam Almonte, touches Morales’ bass guitar and visualizes him playing music. In a park overlooking the Hudson River, he recalls the days past when he was throwing a baseball with Morales.

“When he died, it was like I lost a brother, a relative and a friend all at once,” says Almonte, 16 years younger than Morales, who shared his love of books, video games and wrestling, and was working for the city treats teachers’ pensions.


If the loss of one person leaves such a lasting void, consider all that was lost with the death of a million people.

Over the next few weeks, the US coronavirus toll will likely surpass this once unthinkable milestone.

The pandemic has left an estimated 194,000 children in the United States without one or both of their parents. It has deprived communities of leaders, teachers and caregivers. He robbed us of expertise and perseverance, of humor and dedication.

Wave after wave, the virus has compiled a ruthless timeline of losses, one by one.

When it started, the threat had not yet appeared. In February 2020, an unknown respiratory illness began spreading at a nursing home outside of Seattle, the Life Care Center of Kirkland.

Neil Lawyer, 84, was a short-term patient there, recovering from hospitalization for an infection. When he died of COVID-19 on March 8, the US death toll stood at 30.

Lawyer, born on a farm in Mississippi to parents whose mixed-race heritage subjected them to bitter discrimination, was the family’s first college graduate.

A chemist by training, he lived and worked in Belgium for more than two decades. Other expats knew him for his dedication to baseball coaching and his rich baritone.

After Lawyer – known to the family as “Moose” – and his wife retired to Bellevue, Wash., he and other family members serenaded couples at their weddings in a set dubbed the Moose Tones.

Last October, when one of his granddaughters got married, the Moose-Tones carried on without him.

“He would have just been beaming because, you know, it was the most important thing in the world for him late in life, to reunite with his family,” his son David Lawyer said.

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In late spring 2020, the pandemic seemed to be loosening its grip, until governors decided to reopen their states and deaths spiked again.

Luis Alfonso Bay Montgomery had worked during the early months of the pandemic, driving a tractor through lettuce and cauliflower fields near Yuma, Arizona. Even after he started feeling ill in mid-June, he insisted on working, says Yolanda Bay, his wife of 42 years.

By the time Montgomery, 59, was rushed to hospital, he had to be intubated.

He died on July 18, a day the US death toll topped 140,000. And for the first time since they had met as teenagers in their native Mexico, Bay was alone.

Passing in front of the fields plowed by her husband, she imagines him on his tractor.

“It’s time to get rid of her clothes, but…”, she said, unable to finish her sentence. “There are times when I feel completely alone.

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On Dec. 14, 2020, cameras battled for position as the nation’s first COVID vaccine was administered to a New York City nurse. But the vaccines had arrived too late to save another caregiver, Jennifer McClung.

At Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama, staffers knew McClung, a longtime dialysis nurse, as “Mama Jen.” She took new nurses under her wing and some nights woke up crying with worry for her patients.

In November, McClung, 54, and her husband, John, also a hospital worker, both tested positive. She died hours before the start of the vaccination campaign and the US toll exceeded 300,000.

Today, a sticker with a halo and angel wings marks the spot McClung once occupied in a third-floor nursing station. In the kitchen of her mother, Stella Olive, a digital photo frame displays a constant stream of photos and videos of the daughter she lost.

“I can hear him laugh. I can hear his voice,” McClung’s mother said. “I just can’t touch her. It’s the hardest thing in the world. »

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Even when the delta wave decreased, the balance continued to increase.

Last September, as Sherman Peebles, a sheriff’s deputy in Columbus, Georgia, was hospitalized, the US death toll topped 675,000, surpassing the number of Americans killed by the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago. He died the next day.

As well as his work as a lawyer, Peebles, 49, spent every Saturday tending to a barber chair in his best friend Gerald Riley’s shop.

Riley still arrives at the barber shop every Saturday expecting to see Peebles’ truck. At the end of the day, he thinks back to the routine he and his friend of over 20 years have always followed.

“I love you, my brother,” they said to each other.

How could Riley have known that these would be the last words they would share?

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Doctors and nurses were fighting for their lives.

So every night through spring 2020, Larry Mass and Arnie Kantrowitz opened the windows to thank them, joining the New York symphony of horns and loud cheers.

Mass worries about his partner, whose immune system was weakened by drugs after a kidney transplant. For months, Kantrowitz, a retired teacher and prominent gay rights activist, took refuge on their couch.

But it wasn’t enough. Arnie Kantrowitz died of complications from COVID on January 21, as the death toll neared one million.

Kantrowitz’s papers, in the collection of the New York Public Library, preserve a record of his activism. But the 40 years he shared with Mass can only live on in memory.

On days when the headlines leave Mass angry at the world, he reaches out to his missing partner. What would Kantrowitz say if he were there?

“He’s still with me,” Mass said. “He is there in my heart.”

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