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As of Tuesday afternoon, that’s the number of people who have died with COVID-19 in Kane County alone.
It’s a sobering figure from the state, and one I never thought I’d be writing when I interviewed the Kane County Health Department’s director of disease prevention exactly two years ago about a worrisome coronavirus outbreak that was suddenly taking up a huge chunk of international headlines.
At that time, Uche Onwuta was more worried about the influenza than this bigger, scarier disease that wasn’t even yet known by its official COVID-19 name.
It was almost two months later, on March 24, that we reported the first Aurora death from this new virus, which likely was the first in the county. He was a man in his 90s, and at the time three other city residents had also tested positive for the coronavirus, which prompted local officials to put out a warning this virus must be taken seriously.
Then we did again. Sort of.
And people continued to die. Not just the elderly – although the virus in those early waves certainly affected that age group far more than others – but also Baby Boomers and middle-agers, with the delta variant claiming far too many in their 30s and 40s. They were mothers and fathers and grandparents and neighbors and sisters and brothers and uncles and cousins and co-workers – and frontline workers, including health care folks and caregivers and teachers and clergy.
According to county data, we have lost residents from ages 24 to 104. And all will be remembered with a Ceremony of Recognition and Healing at noon Friday on the steps of the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva, with the event live streamed on the Kane County government’s YouTube page.
Whether the last two years have gone by quickly for you or have dragged on like a bad pre-COVID-19 cold, there’s no question we have all experienced unprecedented hardships, in education or business or mental health or relationships shattered by the political football this pandemic became.
But as we hit this dark county milestone at the two-year mark of a global catastrophe, let’s take time to remember those who have truly lost the most, those no longer with us because of this virus, as well as the families left behind to grieve.
When it comes to who it hits and how hard it strikes, I’ve heard COVID-19 described many times as “Russian roulette.” And this unpredictable virus does, indeed, seem to play by the same rules as a deadly game of chance.
Still, there’s no question far more people are getting seriously ill and dying from the virus who are not vaccinated, a data-driven fact confirmed locally by the medical experts in our communities’ trenches, who see the suffering and the tears up close.
Which is why even deaths from COVID-19 have become sensitive and controversial and, unfortunately, sometimes used by those who want to spew venom as they drive home their agendas.
I got a glimpse of that from our reporting on the recent COVID-related deaths of two Aurora police officers. I wrote a column about Brian Shields, who I knew personally as he was once our stellar cop reporter before going into law enforcement. I did not mention his vaccine status because the Aurora Police Department was not releasing it and the family had asked for privacy. Plus, I wrote the column as a tribute to Brian’s life, not his death.
Which didn’t set well with a number of people who fired off emails accusing me of sloppy reporting and purposely withholding his vaccination information. Some messages were filled with such vitriol, I chose not to respond to them.
Compare that to reporter Megan Jones, who also got criticized for her news story the following week about the death of APD Sgt. Ken Thurman. She too did not reveal his vaccination status because, as before, that information was not available. (Unlike social media, we rely on official sources before printing these sorts of details).
My colleague did, however, bring up the vaccination issue, which lead to a round of critics on the other side of the ball, who accused her of insensitivity and not allowing the sergeant’s loved ones time to grieve.
The thing is, I believe in respecting a family’s privacy, just as I understand why people want to know vaccination data regarding COVID-19 deaths. But I also believe that, when it comes to the virus’ impact over the last couple of years, we can’t ignore another important thing that’s taken a big hit – our humanity.
No matter how right we feel we are about vaccines or masks or government mandates or CDC guidelines, let’s not forget how to make our way to the middle of the road and to show empathy for those who have lost the most.