Families share memories of loved ones who have died from coronavirus

U.S.

(NewsNation Now) — As America passes 250,000 coronavirus deaths, entering what experts believe will be the toughest phase of the pandemic so far, NewsNation affiliates have been documenting the lives of some of the people we’ve lost.

Lubbock, Texas is saying farewell to Dr. Juan Fitz, an ER physician known to colleagues as a hero of emergency medicine. He died in the same hospital where he worked saving lives; one of four health care workers officials say Lubbock has lost to COVID-19.

“It’s got to stop,” said his friend Christy Martinez-Garcia. “People have got to take this seriously.”

Jonnie Pfoff, 86, of Rutledge, Tennessee is being remembered by her granddaughter Carrie Bowley as “one of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my life.” 91 of the 96 residents in Ms. Pfoff’s long-term care home tested positive for the virus, along with 35 staff members.

Roy and Angie Camello of Waipahu, Hawaii, near Honolulu, are remembered by friends and family as the couple that did everything together. During the coronavirus outbreak, they thought they’d done everything right; wearing masks and avoiding crowds, but the high school sweethearts who’d been married for 60 years were diagnosed with the virus on the same day, eventually placed on ventilators, and died one month apart.

Son Craig tells NewsNation affiliate KHON, “They never did anything on their own. Mom was always at his side.” 

Springfield, Missouri’s Fred Luper, 67, was enjoying retirement, his grandchildren, and his garden when he fell ill. Jane, his wife of 37 years, was in the hospital wearing a complete set of PPE to be by his side at the end; holding Fred’s hand as he took his last breath.

“We were good partners,” she said. “We complemented each other.”

The death of Chicago 911 dispatcher Guadalupe Lopez has hit the law enforcement community in the city very hard — to say nothing of the impact on his family and friends.

“It definitely hits home,” said long-time acquaintance Melana Raehl of the man who was known as a mentor to many of his fellow radio operators. ”And to me, that means it’s so real.” 

In Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, there’s a memorial for a COVID victim who shared the same first name. Guadalupe Perez and his son got coronavirus at the same time, but as Alejandro was getting better, he noticed his dad was getting worse.

“Every night I could hear, like, his breathing,” Alejandro told NewsNation affiliate WGN-TV, before breaking down in tears. He’s in unbearable grief, he says, but incredibly proud of the life his immigrant father lived.

In Conway, Arkansas, beloved substitute teacher George Yarbrough, known as ‘Mr. Ron,’ has left a void students and colleagues say can never be filled.

“He just had a way of making anyone he talked to feel a million bucks,” said his friend Lindsey Jones.

When Yarbrough was named substitute teacher of the year in 2019, he was interviewed by NewsNation affiliate KARK while surrounded by his pupils, saying he’d “rather be in a classroom with kids like these than be anywhere on the planet.”

They’d probably understand a loss like that all too well at Hernando Elementary School in Hernando, Mississippi, which also recently lost a popular teacher. Parents called it “heartbreaking.” The state’s Republican governor sees it as a tragic, teachable moment.

“What’s in the best interest of you and your family and all Mississippians,” said Gov. Tate Reeves, “is if you go out in public, wear a mask. Please, wear a mask.”

Quite literally, words to live by. As difficult as the current moment is — the worst of the pandemic in the U.S. to date — health experts fear even worse lies ahead unless more Americans follow the rules.

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