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A Year Since First U.S. Death, COVID-19 Has Exacted A Heavy Toll


A year ago this month, we reported on a developing story.


LEILA FADEL: Washington state announced several firsts yesterday - the first death of someone in the U.S. infected with the virus.

SIMON: Washington state announced the first COVID-19 death in the United States on February 29. The man was in his 50s. He had underlying health problems. But public health officials later discovered that the first death actually occurred nearly three weeks before, February 6, 2020. One year ago today, COVID-19 claimed its first life in the United States in Santa Clara County, Calif. Over the past year, about 460,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States. The actual toll is undoubtedly higher and will continue to grow.

We have reported on some of the lives lost over the past year, remembering and celebrating each one, including Carroll White of Ottumwa, Iowa, who died in October. He just turned 100. And he was one of the first American troops to enter Hiroshima. His son Steven told us that memories keep his father alive.


STEVEN WHITE: I mean, I think about him every day. And he's an example to me. So I just try to live up to, you know, his standards. And I know I never will. But he was a very selfless individual, a very hard-working individual. And he did the best he could to make other people happy and to provide a good life for his family.

SIMON: Vanielle Blackhorse told us about her older sister, Valentina, who died in April. She was a Navajo community leader and advocated for the survival of her culture.


VANIELLE BLACKHORSE: She would have children write essays on why the Navajo culture is important, and she would sit there and read each and every essay. And she would give back-to-school supplies or Thanksgiving or Christmas - a complete meal for just a whole family.

SIMON: Thousands upon thousands of family members and friends lost in a year - artists, scientists, teachers and dreamers with good work and much happiness ahead of them.

How about Hecky Powell? He was the unofficial mayor of Evanston, Ill. His barbecue restaurant was the heart of a community. And he died in May. His wife, Cheryl Judice, remembers that when he died, the town showed their support.


CHERYL JUDICE: Somewhere in the area of about 200 cars drove down my block, releasing balloons, showing signs, tossing flowers, giving cards. And I'm thinking, you know, Hecky would have loved this.

SIMON: We will continue to honor those who have been lost in this pandemic and hope we have fewer to remember in the year to come. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.