The death toll from COVID-19 in the US has passed 1 million

On the deadliest day of a horrific week in April 2020, COVID-19 took the lives of 816 people in New York City alone.

Lost in the blizzard of pandemic data that has been swirling ever since is the fact that 43-year-old Fernando Morales was one of them.

Two years and 1 million dead later, his brother, Adam Almonte, fingers Mr. Morales’ bass guitar and visualizes him playing tunes.

In a park overlooking the Hudson River, he remembers throwing a baseball with Mr. Morales days ago.

“When he died, it was like losing a brother, a parent, and a friend at the same time,” said Mr. Almonte, 16 years younger than Mr. Morales, who shared his love of books, video games, and wrestling and worked for the city that the teacher pensions.

If the loss of one person leaves such a lasting void, think of all that was lost with the death of 1 million people.

Last week, the White House confirmed that the US had passed that once unimaginable milestone.

The pandemic has left an estimated 194,000 children in the US without one or both parents.

It has robbed communities of leaders, teachers, and caregivers. It has robbed the country of expertise, perseverance, humor, and dedication.

Wave after wave, the virus has put together a brutal chronology of loss – one by one.

When it started, the threat had not yet become apparent.


One of the first recorded COVID deaths in the US

In February 2020, an unknown respiratory disease began to spread through a nursing home outside Seattle, the Kirkland Life Care Center.

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 coronavirus death toll stood at 30.

Born on a Mississippi ranch to parents who discriminated against them because of their mixed ancestry, Mr. Lawyer was the family’s first college graduate.

David Lawyer plays piano with a photo of Neil shown. (AP: David Goldman)

Trained as a chemist, he lived and worked in Belgium for over two decades. Fellow ex-pats knew him for his dedication to coaching baseball and his rich baritone.

After Mr. Lawyer — known to his family as “Moose” — and his wife retired to Bellevue, Washington, he and other family members would serenade couples at their weddings in an ensemble called the Moose-Tones.

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

“He would have just beamed because, you know, in later life, the most important thing in the world for him was being with family,” says his son, David Lawyer.

By the late spring of 2020, the pandemic seemed to be losing its grip — until governors decided to reopen their states, and deaths started to pick up again.

‘There are times when I feel all alone.’

Yolanda Bay stands next to a photo of her husband, Luis. (AP: David Goldman)

Luis Alfonso Bay Montgomery had worked through the early months of the pandemic, driving a tractor through the lettuce and cauliflower fields near Yuma, Arizona.

Even after he started getting sick in mid-June, he insisted on working, says Yolanda Bay, his wife of 42.

When Mr. Montgomery, 59, was rushed to a hospital, he had to be intubated.

He died on July 18, when the US toll exceeded 140,000. And for the first time, since they’d met as teenagers in their native Mexico, Mrs. Bay was on her own.

As she drives past the fields her husband has plowed, she imagines him on his tractor.

“It’s time to take off his clothes, but…” she says, unable to finish the sentence. “There are times when I feel all alone.”

Photos of Jennifer McClung sitting at a table in her mother’s home, Stella Olive (far left). (AP: David Goldman)

On December 14, 2020, cameras jockeyed for position as the country’s first COVID vaccine was administered to a New York nurse. But the vaccines had arrived too late to save a fellow caregiver, Jennifer McClung.

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

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

Today, a halo and angel wings decal marks where Mrs. McClung once occupied a third-floor nursing station. Her mother, Stella Olive, has a digital photo frame in her kitchen with a steady stream of photos and videos of the daughter she lost.

“I hear her laughing. I hear her voice,” Mrs. McClung’s mother says. St. Can’t touch her. It’s the hardest thing there is.’

Even as the delta wave ebbed, the toll continued to rise

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

ShiVanda Peebles hangs her husband’s sheriff uniform in their home. (AP: David Goldman)

In addition to working as a lawyer, 49-year-old Mr. Peebles spent every Saturday operating a barber chair at his best friend Gerald Riley’s shop.

Mr. Riley still arrives at the hairdresser every Saturday expecting to see Mr. Peebles’ truck. He thinks back to the routine he and his friend of over 20 years used to follow.

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

How could Mr. Riley know that these would be the last words they would ever say?

‘He’s still with me.’

Larry Mass looks at a portrait of him and his longtime partner, Arnie Kantrowitz. (AP: David Goldman)

The doctors and nurses were fighting for their lives.

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

Massa was concerned about his partner, whose immune system had been weakened by medication after a kidney transplant. For months, Mr. Kantrowitz, a retired professor and noted gay rights activist, took refuge on their couch.

But it wasn’t enough. Arnie Kantrowitz died of complications from COVID on Jan. 21 as the toll approached 1 million.

Kantrowitz’s papers, in the New York Public Library collection, contain an account of his activism. But the 40 years he shared with Mr. Mass can only be remembered.

When the headlines make Mr. Mass angry about the world, he contacts his missing partner. What would Mr. Kantrowitz say if he were here?

“He’s still with me,” Mr. Mass says. “He’s in my heart.”


Dorothy R. Barrett

I’m a full-time blogger by passion. This is my first blog, and I'm excited to share everything that I love about technology, business, and lifestyle with you. I’m a writer by trade, and I can be found writing about tech, business, and lifestyle on my personal blog.
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