MIAMI (AP) — Funeral director Wayne Bright has seen grief piled upon grief during the latest. A woman died of the virus, and her mother was also struck down as her family was planning the funeral. An aunt took over arrangements for the double funeral, only to die of COVID-19 two weeks afterward.
“That was one of the most devastating things ever,” said Bright, who also arranged the funeral of one of his closest friends last week. Since the pandemic began, Florida has been in the grip of its deadliest, a disaster driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
While Florida’s vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, the Sunshine State has an outsize population ofolder adultse, who are especially vulnerable to the virus; a vibrant party scene; and a Republican governor who has taken a hard line against, vaccine passports, and business shutdowns.
As of mid-August, the state averaged 244 deaths per day, up from just 23 apeak of 227 during the summer of 2020. (Because of the way deaths are logged in Florida and lag in reporting, more are incomplete.) Hospitals have had to rent refrigerated trucks to store more bodies. Funeral homes have been overwhelmed.
Cristina Miles, a mother of five from Orange Park, faces more than one. Her husband died after , and less than two weeks later, her mother-in-law succumbed to the virus.
“I feel we are all kind of in astate,” she said, adding that her children are grieving differently, with one shutting down, another feeling inspired to pass a hard swimming test, and the oldest going about her life as usual. Hospitals have been swamped with patients who hadn’t gotten vaccinated, like Miles’ husband and mother-in-law.
In a positive sign, the number of people in thehas dropped over the past two weeks from more than 17,000 to 14,200 on Friday, indicating the surge is easing.
Florida made an aggressiveits senior citizens. But Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, a professor of at the University of Florida, said the raw number of those who have yet to get the shot is still significant, given Florida’s elderly population of 4.6 million.
“Even 10% is still a huge number, and then folks living with them who come in contact with them are not vaccinated,” Cherabuddi said. “With delta, things spread very quickly.”
Cheribundi said there is also a “huge difference” in attitudes toward masks in Florida this. “if you traveled around the state this summer, it was like we are not really in a surge,” he said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has vehemently opposed specific mandatory measures to keep the virus in check,should be trusted to make decisions for themselves. He has asserted, too, that the is seasonal as Floridians spend more time indoors to escape the heat. At his funeral home in Tampa, Bright works weekdays and weekends, staying past midnight sometimes.
“Usually, we serve between five and six families a week. We probably see 12 to 13 new families every week,” he said. “It’s nonstop. We are just trying to keep up with the volume.”
He had to arrange the burial of one of his closest friends, whom he had entrusted with the access code to his house. They used to carpool each other’s kids to school, and their families would gather for birthday andparties. “It is very to go through this process for someone you love so dearly,” he said.
Pat Seemann, a nurse practitionerhas nearly 500 elderly, homebound patients in central Florida, had not lost a single patient during the first waves. An the past month, she lost seven patients in two weeks, including a husband and wife who died within days of each other.
And then the variant she calls “the wrecking ball” hit.”I cried all weekend. I was devastated, angry,” she said. Over 46,300 people have died of COVID-19 in Florida, ranking 17th in per-capita deaths.
Most of the deaths this— like last summer — are among the elderly. Of the 2,345 people whose recent deaths were reported over the past week, 1,479 were 65 and older — or 63%. “The focus needs to be on who’s dying and who’s ending up in the hospital,” Seeman said. “It’s still going after the elderly.”
But the proportion of under-65 people dying of COVID-19 has grown substantially, whichrates in those age groups.
Aaron Jaggi, 35, wasto get healthy before he died of COVID-19, 12 hours after his older brother Free Jaggi, 41, lost his life to the virus. They were overweight, which increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness, and on the fence about getting vaccinated, thinking the risk was minimal because they both worked from , said Brittany Pequignot. She has lived with the family various times and is like an adopted daughter. After their death, the family found a whiteboard that belonged to Aaron. It listed his daily goals for sit-ups and push-ups.
“He was trying,” Pequignot said. Calling all HuffPost superfans! Sign up for membership toand help shape HuffPost’s next chapter.