5,000 Iowans have died of COVID-19. Nearly 60% of them passed in the last three months.
A Cubs fan, the "flower lady," husbands, wives, and more are part of the more than 1,400 Iowans lost COVID-19 as of early October 2020. Des Moines Register
Do you know someone who died of COVID-19?
In October, 1,500 Iowa families did.
Back then, we had just launched the Iowa Mourns project, a series of obituaries dedicated to ensuring that the Iowans lost to COVID-19 — our friends, neighbors, and colleagues — would be remembered as more than a number.
Now, at least 5,000 Iowa families are grieving a lost loved one.
Iowa reached this grim milestone — 5,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19 — on Thursday, Feb. 4, 317 days since March 24, 2020, when the state Department of Public Health confirmed the first COVID-19 death in Iowa. The death toll stood at 5,033 as of 10 a.m. Thursday, with 58 additional deaths reported in the past 24 hours, some of them confirmed from days or even weeks before.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, the American collective seems to want to move on, to talk about reopening and revitalization. And with the vaccine, there is hope on the horizon, no doubt.
But Iowans are dying.
Nearly 60% of the Iowans who succumbed to the virus have died in the past three months. The past three months.
In watching the daily tallies — 32 fewer hospitalizations, eight less ICU beds — a comparison hangover pounds. As if by adding “fewer” or “less” in front of any of these metrics, we can breathe easy.
As if those words offer some protection for what we are really talking about — people.
Fewer people. Less people.
And, goodness, do I hope those modifiers continue to be true.
But Iowans are still dying.
Geanell Latimore — better known as Nell Nell or Gi Gi — isn’t devouring books anymore. A devoted bibliophile, Geanell used to read one title while listening to another. She’d even make sure to tuck a cover under her arm at family parties — just in case a break in the action meant she’d have time for a chapter or two.
Edison Davis isn’t marching in parades or speaking to high school classes. A proud World War II-era Marine, Ed was a 17-year-old kid fresh out of high school when he went to the Pacific. He returned stateside at 21, having seen some of the war’s toughest battles.
He spent the rest of his life unafraid to wave the flag or to criticize Uncle Sam’s failures and demand better treatment for veterans.
Sanford Naiditch, another World War II vet, isn’t marching or speaking either.
Sanford, who made it to 97 years young, often talked about what he wanted for his 100th birthday party. He said he'd love to invite dozens of people to celebrate — "everyone he met, including acquaintances, friends of friends and complete strangers."
He'd sit in a gazebo, he said, and sip his favorite whiskey.
Tom Barnabo isn’t coaching. A beloved physical education teacher at Dowling Catholic and a founding coach for Grand View University’s football program, "Barn" helped build the Vikings into an NAIA powerhouse. His chair — the last one in a long row — sat for weeks with the coach’s jacket still draped across its back, a pair of shoes, socks and sandals still askew under the desk.
Jason Englert isn’t teaching. An adored member of the talented and gifted program at Belmond-Klemme, Jason was famous for his "Ho Ho Dessert," a special concoction of the individually packaged snack cakes, heavy whipping cream, vanilla pudding and pie filling.
Ruth Klotz isn’t mentoring young lawyers. The only woman to graduate in her 1955 Drake Law School class, Ruth made an indelible impact on Iowa’s legal community, finally hanging up her robes at the age of 90. She took particular care to advise female judges and lawyers over the years — a dedication that led to her induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame last year.
“I’d call her Iowa’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” a colleague said.
Alonzo T. “Lon” Adams II isn’t tinkering with recipes. A Davenport native, Lon modernized the recipe for the Slim Jim, the snappable, skinny beef stick and road trip favorite. Even outside of a science lab, he liked to dabble with food flavors, often whipping up impromptu meals from whatever was in his two fully stocked fridges — which, of course, included lots of protein.
John Pettit isn’t cheering on his favorite football team. The chief operating officer of the Iowa Barnstormers, John was instrumental in bringing the arena football squad to Des Moines in 2008.
Mike Kurylo isn’t whipping out his harmonica, breaking into song just to coax a smile out of the listener. A World War II survivor and Ukrainian immigrant, Mike had his name inscribed on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor a few years ago.
To him, there was no higher tribute, his daughter said.
And Shawna Gilleland isn’t calling her mother a half-dozen times a day. She ended each call with the same handful of phrases: “Good night. Sweet dreams. Don't let the bed bugs bite. Love you and talk to you tomorrow."
The story continues below.
Iowans are still dying.
In October, I asked the question: Do you know someone who died of COVID-19?
In February, I’ll give the same answer: You do now.
Courtney Crowder, the Register's Iowa Columnist, traverses the state's 99 counties telling Iowans' stories. She's a parallel parking master acquainting herself with gravel roads. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8360. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.