Three times a week, Gov. Jim Justice speaks about the people who have died from COVID-19. A 79-year-old man from Putnam County. An 81-year-old woman from Kanawha County. Three additional COVID-19 deaths one day. Two more the next. Maybe six the day after that.
Numbers — and a word of condolence from the governor for the families of the nameless dead.
These were West Virginians. They had names. They were teachers, church elders, lawyers, grandparents, mothers and sons.
Editors and reporters at the Charleston Gazette-Mail wanted to know more about them and, through them, to learn more about the virus and its impact.
When we began discussing this project, about 70 West Virginians had died as a result of COVID-19. The numbers grew and grew. And grew. The death toll reached 100 in July. Weeks later, 100 more were lost. By early September the state had lost 100 more, with more dying each day.
As we’ll tell you later this week, when COVID-19-related deaths started occurring throughout West Virginia in April, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected that the state would lose 500 people to the virus. In May, restrictions around West Virginia that were meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were lifted week by week. People continued to die, and the virus spread.
Today, if restrictions and mask practices stay constant, the state is expected to lose more than 1,740 people by Jan. 1, according to the same projections.
The first 100 people who died might provide insight into the pandemic’s effect on West Virginia — who is affected and how. That group is the focus of our “100 Lives” project. To truly understand the gravity of the pandemic, we are seeking to put ourselves and you in the shoes of those who have lost the most. Remembering those lost and the suffering of those they left behind also might help us heal as a community.
This week, we’ll be telling the stories of four West Virginians, how they lived and what life looked like for each immediately before they died. You’ll hear from their loved ones as they coped with loss as the result of an illness with no end in sight that could strike any of us at any time.
We’re interested in who these people were, how they lived and what happened when they got sick. We want to celebrate their lives and learn from their loss. We need your help: If you’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19 and would like to tell their story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or call 304-348-5100.