COVID toll approaches 800,000 to end a year filled with deaths | Chicago News

Carolyn Burnett sorts through memorabilia to select items to commemorate her son Chris Burnett on Sunday, December 5, 2021 in Olathe, Kansas. Chris Burnett, an unvaccinated 34-year-old father who coached football at Olathe East High School, died in September from COVID-19 after nearly two weeks on a ventilator. (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)

MISSION, Kan. (AP) – Carolyn Burnett is getting ready for her first Christmas without her son Chris, a beloved high school football coach whose outdoor memorial service drew hundreds of crowds.

The unvaccinated 34-year-old father-of-four died in September from COVID-19 after nearly two weeks on a ventilator, and his loss has left a gaping hole for his mother, widow and family as they approached. holidays.

How, she thought, could they take a vacation photo without Chris? What would football look like on Christmas Day without him commenting? How could they play trivia games on Christmas Eve without him beating everyone up with his film expertise?

The United States is on the verge of reaching another depressing pandemic milestone – 800,000 deaths. It’s a sad coda for a year that was so promising with the arrival of vaccines, but ends in grief for the many grieving families trying to get through the holiday season.

For their Christmas card photo, the Burnett family ultimately chose to wield a soccer ball presented as a memorial by the Kansas City Chiefs to represent Chris. Carolyn Burnett also set up a special holiday shelf, filling it with a drawing of her son, her tanned baby shoe, a candle, a poem and an ornament from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

But nothing looks quite right this year.

“These emotions come and go so fast,” she said. “You see something. You hear something. His favorite dish. You hear the song. There are just all these little things. And then, bam.

The year began with the death toll from COVID-19 at around 350,000 in the United States, at a time when the country was in the grip of a winter wave so severe that patients were lined up in emergency room corridors while waiting. beds.

But vaccines were only just beginning, and sports stadiums and fairgrounds quickly turned into sites for mass vaccination. The number of cases has started to decline. By spring, almost all schools had reopened and communities were getting rid of orders for masks. TV presenters began to talk happily about a post-pandemic world. President Joe Biden proclaimed the 4th of July holiday as a celebration of the nation’s liberation from the virus.

It didn’t last long. Delta struck just as vaccination rates stagnated amid a wave of disinformation, devastating poorly immunized parts of the Midwest and South. Hospitals have brought back mobile morgues and opened their wallets in a desperate attempt to attract enough nurses to treat the sick.

“People have no idea,” said Debbie Eaves, a lab worker, who grew tired of the wave of deaths as she collected swabs from patients at Oakdale Community Hospital in Louisiana in the middle of the wave. “Oh no. They have no idea what it’s like to look and see, to see it.

In Kansas, Carolyn Burnett begged her son, nicknamed Coach Cheese because of his love of cheeseburgers, to get the shot.

“He was part of the group that… just didn’t trust him,” she said, stopping and sighing. “They didn’t want to be a guinea pig. They didn’t want to be experienced.

She thought maybe he was softening. When his father received his first injection of COVID-19 in August, Chris, a diabetic, told his mother he would discuss it with his doctor. But then one of Chris’s children got infected at a family sleepover and soon everyone got sick.

She texted him, “Honey, God got you. Her last text told her, “Mom, I can smell it.” He died on September 11.

School administrators tweeted their sincere condolences, praising his passion for training running backs at Olathe East High School. Crying athletes paid tribute in TV interviews. The Kansas City Glory, an all-female soccer team that Burnett coached, asked fans to contribute to a GoFundMe fundraiser to help their children. And he was honored with an inspiration award at a ceremony that recognizes the region’s top high school athletes.

“We had so much support you would think he was a celebrity,” his mother recalls.

Now, as the year draws to a close, the delta variant fuels another wave of hospitalizations, legal battles are brewing for vaccine warrants, and new questions swirl about the new omicron variant.

Steve Grove has seen his share of coronavirus deaths in his role as chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Recently, the family of a dying patient gathered in a conference room. One by one, they were taken to the patient’s bedside, while other loved ones watched Zoom.

“It’s a huge pain in the buttocks and the connection falls off and it’s weird,” he admitted. “Here’s what I’m going to say to COVID: ‘Up yours. I get a Zoom call, and voila. At least that is what is happening today. You are going to do what you are going to do and you are going to kill that person. You can do that COVID. But what we’re going to do today is this. And I’ll give them a hug when that’s done.

“The alternative,” he said, “is that you just give up, and I guess most of the people in this building have too much faith in humanity.”

He admitted that he sometimes gets angry with unvaccinated patients because “it doesn’t have to be that way. And now there is a mess that may have been preventable.

“I’ll admit it,” he said. “And I know I’m not proud of it, and I swallow it, then I remember as a human being my compassion reminds me that it’s still a loved one of someone.” . It’s always death and it always stings.

Georgetown University Student Health’s Dr LaTasha Perkins is preparing to take a job in January at a clinic that helps underserved residents in the community. She is black and said she felt compelled to change after watching the virus devastate her family.

She has lost a great uncle, aunt and cousin to COVID-19, and she suspects the virus may have played a role in her grandfather’s death. When it hit her own home last December after receiving her first injection but the rest of her family were not yet eligible, she spent sleepless nights watching her toddler breathe and took her husband to the hospital. hospital, although he was not admitted. She never got sick and assigns the vaccine. Her husband also later received the blow.

Yet, infuriating her, only three of her six siblings are vaccinated. Part of the reluctance, she said, is rooted in “the horrible things done in the name of black and brown body medicine in this country.” they’re lining up to get the shot. “

However, she failed to reach some of her relatives. This is part of the reason she started giving hesitation speeches specifically for African Americans in the DC area.

“For my own selfish reason, I don’t want to go to a funeral anymore,” she said, “and I don’t want COVID to come back to my house.”

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