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Remembering A Grandfather And A Great Uncle Who Both Died Of COVID-19 A Week Apart


Now, on today's program, we are telling stories that help us understand the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. For comparison, the 57,000 who've died - that number is 17 times the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war, 24 times as many as Afghanistan.


These coronavirus deaths are not evenly distributed. They depend on where you live, what race you are, what kind of job you do and also on your age. The CDC says 80% of those who've died of the disease were over age 65. One person who's seen that firsthand is LaTrenda Lee Jefferson. The disease has swept through the patriarchs of her family.

LATRENDA LEE JEFFERSON: My grandfather passed away on the 1 of April, and his brother passed away about - I want to say about a week before he did.

SHAPIRO: And the two of them were close?

JEFFERSON: Very close. Very close.

SHAPIRO: Her grandfather Samen (ph) Jefferson was 94. Her great-uncle Willie Lee (ph) Jefferson was 86.

JEFFERSON: My grandfather didn't know that his brother W.L. had passed away.

SHAPIRO: He was fighting for his life in the hospital, and they didn't want to burden him with the news that his brother had died. Both men lived in Louisiana. LaTrenda lives in Texas, so she couldn't be by their side. Her grandfather raised her until she was 19. She talked to him every day, including a FaceTime call on the day of his death.

JEFFERSON: It was very valuable to me. I took screenshots of the call, so I'll always have those photos with me.

SHAPIRO: Are you comfortable sharing any of the things that you talked about in that FaceTime call that you had with him at the end?

JEFFERSON: Because I knew what his mindset was, I never spoke in terms of finality, if that makes any sense.

SHAPIRO: Of course. Yeah.

JEFFERSON: I wanted to fight with him as long as he kept his foot in the ring, so to speak. So if he was going to fight, I was going to fight with him. So I always spoke in terms of, I want you to fight, Grandaddy. And he always agreed, I'm going to keep fighting. I always saw him as strong. And my grandfather, he was paralyzed in a car accident in 1979 from the chest down. The doctors told him he'd never walk again, and he proved that to be untrue because he pushed himself to walk again. So he was a fighter throughout his life.

SHAPIRO: Unlike many seniors who die of this disease, LaTrenda's grandfather did not die alone. Two family members were able to visit him on his last day, covered in full protective gear. But they couldn't hold a funeral. No graveside service was allowed. LaTrenda doesn't even know if he's been buried.

If I could just ask you for a moment to speak to the people listening who have not been as personally affected by this as you have, how are you thinking right now about this disease and the toll that this disease has taken on the American people?

JEFFERSON: It's devastating. I wish that people would take it seriously as the thought of people dying alone. And you could have it and spread it and not even know it. I understand people want to go back to work. I want to go back to work - my job has been furloughed - but not at the risk of my life or the lives of my loved ones. It's just not worth it. It's not worth it.

SHAPIRO: That's LaTrenda Lee Jefferson, whose grandfather and great-uncle were among the senior citizens who've died of COVID-19. In other parts of the program, we talk about ways of understanding the number of people who've died of this disease based on their race, their job or where they live.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BRION'S "SPOTLESS MIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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