MIAMI-During the latest COVID-19 surge, Funeral Director Wayne Bright (Wayne Bright) witnessed a mountain of grief piling up.
A woman died of the virus. While her family was planning a funeral, her mother was knocked down. An aunt took over the arrangements for the double funeral, but died of COVID-19 herself two weeks later.
“This is one of the most destructive things in history,” said Bright, who also arranged the funeral of one of his closest friends last week.
Florida is in the midst of the deadliest COVID-19 wave since the pandemic began. The disaster was triggered by the highly contagious delta variant.
Although the vaccination rate in Florida is slightly higher than the national average, the elderly population in the Sunshine State is large and especially vulnerable to the virus; vibrant party scenes; and a strong stance on mask requirements, vaccine passports, and business shutdowns Republican governor.
As of mid-August, the state had an average of 244 deaths per day, up from 23 per day in late June, and surpassing the peak of 227 on the day before the summer of 2020. (Because of the delay in recording and reporting the number of deaths in Florida, the latest data on the number of deaths per day is incomplete.)
The hospital rents refrigerated trucks to store more dead bodies. The funeral home is overcrowded.
Cristina Miles, the mother of five children from Orange Park, was one of those who faced more than one loss at a time. Her husband died after contracting COVID-19, and her mother-in-law died of the virus less than two weeks later.
“I think we are all in a strange dream state,” she said of herself and her three children.
The hospital was crowded with patients like Miles’ husband and mother-in-law who had not been vaccinated.
A positive sign is that the number of people infected with COVID-19 in Florida hospitals has fallen from more than 17,000 on Friday to 14,200 in the past two weeks, indicating that the surge is slowing.
Florida has made active efforts to vaccinate the elderly very early. But Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Florida, said that given the 4.6 million elderly population in Florida, the original number of people who have not been vaccinated is still very large.
“Even if 10% is still a very large number, then the people who come into contact with them are not vaccinated,” Cherabuddi said. “For delta, things spread very quickly.”
Cherabuddi said that Florida’s attitude towards masks this summer was also “huge difference” compared to last year. This summer, “if you travel across the state, it’s as if we are not really in a surge state,” he said.
Governor Ron DeSantis strongly opposed certain coercive measures to control the virus, saying that people should be trusted to make decisions for themselves. He also asserted that the surge in cases is seasonal, because Floridians spend more time indoors to escape the heat.
At the funeral home in Tampa, Bright works on weekdays and weekends, sometimes staying up until midnight.
“Usually we serve 5 to 6 families a week. Now, we may see 12 to 13 new families every week,” he said. “It’s uninterrupted. We just want to keep up with the volume.”
He had to arrange the funeral of one of his closest friends, and he entrusted the security code to his house. They used to carpool each other’s children to school, and their families would get together for birthdays and Super Bowl parties.
“It is very, very difficult to go through this process for someone you love deeply,” he said.
Pat Seemann is a nurse practitioner. His company has nearly 500 elderly patients at home in central Florida. He has not lost a patient due to COVID-19. Then the variant she called the “wrecking ball” hit.
In the past month, she lost 7 patients in two weeks, including her husband and wife who died within a few days.
“I have been crying all weekend. I am sad and angry,” she said.
The elderly are the hardest hit
Overall, more than 46,300 people have died from COVID-19 in Florida, which ranks 17th among states in terms of the number of deaths per capita.
Most of the deaths this summer—just like last summer—are elderly people. Of the 2,345 deaths reported in the past week, 1,479 were 65 years and older, accounting for 63%.
Seaman said: “The focus needs to be on who will die and who will be hospitalized.” “It is still chasing the elderly.”
But the proportion of people under 65 who die from COVID-19 has increased significantly, and health officials attribute it to lower vaccination rates in these age groups.
35-year-old Aaron Jaggi died of COVID-19 12 hours after his 41-year-old brother Free Jaggi died of the virus, and he tried to recover. Brittany Pequignot, who has lived with his family many times, said that they are overweight, which increases the risk of severe COVID-19 disease, and is cautious about vaccination, believing that the risk is very high. Small because they all work from home. Just like an adopted daughter.
After they died, the family found a white board belonging to Aaron. It lists his goals for doing sit-ups and push-ups every day.
“He really worked hard,” Pequignot said.