As the US surpasses 250K COVID-19 deaths, SoCal learns to deal with layers of grief

A memorial at a church in Covina offers residents a chance to mourn losses caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. With some areas hit harder by more than 250K deaths nationwide, this includes anything from a missed graduation to the death of a loved one.

ByGrace Manthey KABC logo
Friday, November 20, 2020
As the US surpasses 250K COVID-19 deaths, SoCal learns to grieve
A memorial at a church in Covina offers residents a chance to mourn losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The United States reached a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, as the country has battled increasing daily coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

More than a quarter of a million Americans have now died from COVID-19 and roughly 11.5 million Americans have tested positive for the virus.

It is the highest coronavirus death toll and case count of any country worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Putting COVID-19 deaths into perspective

The number of Americans taken by coronavirus is equivalent to more than 11 times the number of Americans who died during the last flu season, according to the CDC; more than the entire population of Santa Clarita, according to Census data; and more than three sold out games at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Even greater than the number of people who have died is the number of people grappling with the loss of a loved one.

A USC study based on American family models, estimated that for every person killed by the coronavirus, about 9 close family members defined as parents, spouses, siblings or grandparents, were left to grieve.

By that metric, Eyewitness News estimates at least 2.25 million people are grieving the loss of a close relative to COVID-19.

"It gives you a sense of how much grief and loss is blanketing our country right now," said study author and USC Associate Sociology Professor Emily Smith-Greenaway. "What we can't capture in our data, is the loss of more distant relatives. We can't capture friends or coworkers. Our study gives you a conservative sense of loss."

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"It just gets exhausting," said Pastor Lee Yates of Covina Community Church while standing outside a coronavirus memorial at his church. "It's like there are layers of grief, heavy blankets on us."

Yates and his congregation built the memorial in the backyard of their church for anyone needing to grieve a loss during this pandemic. Those losses could include the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of security and missed moments such as a wedding or graduation.

The church, at 1551 Old Badillo Street, invites anyone who is suffering to pay them a visit and add a ribbon with a note of their choosing to the church gate.

Many of the ribbons hold the names of those who have died but some mark other losses, such as the loss of shared joy.

"There is power in loss. It needs somewhere to go," Yates said.

Yates was among the first people to add a name to the memorial, his father, Cecil Yates. Yates' father died of cancer over the summer but because of the pandemic, Yates' family was unable to hold a funeral.

"It isolated us in our grief," Yates said. "I wanted to participate in a communal experience of grief. I wanted to mark his life along with others."

Sandy Williams has also visited the memorial and added the name of a dear friend killed by the coronavirus.

"I just stood out here and cried because at least I could do something to say their life mattered," Williams said while standing near the ribbon holding her friends name.

Mica Stewart has added two names to the growing memorial for friends who lost a father and a brother.

"It's touching everyone. It really is," Stewart said.

Pastor Yates and his colleagues hope the memorial takes some of the loneliness out of the pandemic.

"Mourning happens better when it is done in community," Stewart said.

"I think that is part of what is wrong in this country right now," Williams said. "We don't have a way to process grief."

Areas of the U.S. with the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths

ABC News and ABC owned stations across the country examined the areas experiencing the highest rates of death around the country and found some of the highest death rates in counties in the Midwest, the South and Southeast.

For instance, as of the middle of November, Grove County, Kansas had a death rate 10 times higher than the average US death rate. Terrell County, Georgia and Brooks County, Texas had death rates five times higher than the average US death rate.

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In California, Imperial County, has been among the top 150 counties in the country experiencing high rates of death.

In Los Angeles County, places like Little Armenia which as of Nov. 18 had a death rate nine times above the Los Angeles County death rate and Westlake which had a death rate four times higher than the Los Angeles County death rate have been particularly hard hit.

In Orange County, Santa Ana had a death rate two times higher than the Orange County average death rate and in Riverside County, Palm Desert also had a death rate two times than Riverside County's average death rate.

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In another study, UC Berkeley Demographers Ronald Lee and Josh Goldstein tried to measure to impact of the virus in terms of the economic impact and impact on life expectancy.

Their study estimated that at 250,000 lives lost to the coronavirus, the pandemic would cut the average American life expectancy by nearly a year.

They also put the economic cost of the lives lost up to $2.5 trillion dollars.

"The deaths we've seen this year are despite our best efforts. We have really done a lot to prevent the disease and we still have 250,000 deaths and counting. The real danger of the coronavirus is much higher than what we have seen," Goldstein said.

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Yates said he has already seen enough pain and fear throughout this pandemic.

"I'm not sure when we will all stop grieving. I'm not sure when we will understand what has happened to us," Yates said adding that he hopes the memorial gives anyone struggling with grief a place to rest their sadness.

"That's one of the beauties of this project, is that it can go on a fence and others can see it and experience it and they may not know what your ribbon means to you, but we know when we see them out there together, we are not the only ones feeling and so maybe it gives us a little more comfort to share what is inside. So it's not all bottled up in there tearing us apart," Yates said.