- The US recorded roughly 18,000 deaths from COVID-19 this week alone.
- Wednesday marked the deadliest day in the pandemic so far, with nearly 3,500 deaths reported.
- Below are the names and brief stories of 20 people recently killed by the virus — including the newly elected Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a pioneering surgeon, and the first Black country superstar.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Charley Pride played music. William Norwood performed live-saving surgeries. Rosemary Shinohara worked long nights at the newsroom, picked blueberries, ran triathlons, and read mystery novels. Veronica Gutierrez, age 29, liked puzzles.
They all died of COVID-19, their deaths reported this week amid a tragic and unprecedented surge in infections and fatalities across the US. The US recorded nearly 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in the last seven days alone.
Wednesday marked the deadliest day in the pandemic so far, with close to 3,500 reported deaths. That's more American deaths from a single catastrophe than on any other day in the past 100 years, including 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and D-Day.
Below are the names, faces, and a small peak into the lives of just a few Americans whose deaths were reported this week.
Charley Pride, the first black country superstar, died on Saturday in Dallas, Texas, at age 86.
A month before Pride died, he received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association. He was a three-time Grammy winner and had been a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame since 2000.
"Charley Pride is the epitome of a trailblazer," Sarah Trahern, CEO of the CMA, told Billboard. "Few other artists have grown country music's rich heritage and led to the advancement of country music around the world like Charley."
Pride released his biggest hit, "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'," in 1971. By the mid-1970s, he was RCA Records' best-selling performer since Elvis Presley.
"How did it feel to be the first Black country singer? It don't bother me, other than I have to explain it to you how I maneuvered around all these obstacles to get to where I am today," Pride told NPR in 2017.
Singer Dolly Parton wrote a tribute to Pride on Twitter.
"I'm so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away," she said. "It's even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you."
Married teachers Paul and Rose Mary Blackwell died holding hands. Rose Mary taught second grade. Paul taught physical education and coached football.
Paul, 62, and Rose Mary, 65, both worked at the Grand Prairie Independent School District in Grand Prairie, Texas. After developing COVID-19, they spent two weeks in intensive care. Their family eventually made the difficult decision to take them off life support.
"Me and my brother came to the conclusion to let them go at peace together," their son, Shawn Blackwell, told CNN. "They were together and holding hands. My brother and I were both holding my parents' hands as well, so all four of us were holding each other's hands as they were both removed from the ventilator."
Paul and Rose Mary leave behind four children and 20 grandchildren.
The Blackwell family created a GoFundMe page to help with memorial and funeral arrangements.
On Saturday, Monmouth College swim coach Tom Burek died in Lake Bracken, Illinois, at age 62.
Burek was the second-longest serving swim coach in the college's history, according to Swimming World. He led the men's and women's swim teams to 12 individual Midwest Conference victories.
"His laugh and smile were contagious and always turned frowns quickly to smiles," Monmouth assistant swim coach Erin Lafary told Swimming World. "You always knew where Coach was on a pool deck full of swimmers, because you could spot his bright yellow Crocs. Better yet, you could hear him say his well-known 'goggle up!' from miles away."
Weeks before his death, Richard Hinch was elected speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Hinch died at age 71 on December 9, one week into his term. During that week, he voted against a requirement for lawmakers to attend anti-sexual harassment training and in favor of allowing lawmakers to carry concealed firearms on the House floor.
"Dick was very much about a conservative approach to just about everything," New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse told The New York Times. He added that Hinch was "nice in how he talked to people."
"If he disagreed with you, he'd get his point across without being stern," Morse said. "He was always happy."
It's not clear how Hinch contracted COVID-19. Three weeks before his death, he attended an indoor caucus meeting where several other attendees were infected. Hinch referred to Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks on the House floor as the "patriot section" or "freedom group," the Times reported.
"It's so ironic, looking back," former New Hampshire House Speaker Steve Shurtleff told the Times. "I know he was just doing his job as a Republican leader, defending his members and his caucus, but it seems so senseless now."
Veronica Gutierrez died at age 29 in New Mexico. Her family wasn't allowed to say goodbye in person.
On November 16, paramedics brought Gutierrez from her mother's home to a hospital in Lovington, New Mexico. A day later, Gutierrez was flown to Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, more than 200 miles away.
Several of her personal belongings — including her clothes, glasses, and a purple phone case —were lost in the transition, the family told the Las Cruces Sun-News.
By December 9, Gutierrez's condition had declined past the point of any hope. Her family saw her for the last time the next day via FaceTime, but she was unresponsive. Gutierrez passed away 40 minutes after the call.
"All I could say was that I was sorry. She was there alone and we couldn't be with her," Gutierrez's sister, Victoria Corral, told Las Cruces Sun-News. "She was so young."
The family of Ohio native Warner Timmons was not able to visit him before he died, either. "This hurts. It hurts in ways I never imagined," his son, Jay, wrote.
Warner Timmons served in the US Air Force. Jay is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.
"As my entire family has been, Dad had been extraordinarily careful in following CDC guidelines, even as others in public places were not," Jay wrote in a statement on the association's website. "Just a couple of weeks ago, my father was perfectly healthy."
He added: "The fact is that my dad — like thousands and thousands of other Americans —would no doubt be alive if someone else had just been a little more cautious and even done something as simple and effortless as wearing a face covering."
"Steel Magnolias" actress Carol Sutton died at 76.
Sutton was a fixture of the theater scene in her hometown of New Orleans. In addition to appearing in local productions, she mentored young actors and playwrights. Her movie credits include "The Big Easy," "The Pelican Brief," "Ray," and "The Help."
"Carol Sutton was practically the queen of New Orleans theater, having graced the stages across the city for decades," New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell wrote on Twitter.
Sutton volunteered for decades at Total Community Action, an organization that assists low-income New Orleans families.
"She was a person who could take vulnerability and make it seem like a superpower," actress Idella Johnson told The New York Times.
Theodore Mann, an esteemed lawyer and religious-freedom advocate, died at 92.
Mann argued multiple religious-freedom cases before the Supreme Court. In 1963, he won the "Abington School District v. Schempp" case, which ruled that school-sponsored bible readings were unconstitutional in public schools.
Outside the courtroom, he was a staunch advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was also the founding chairman of the advocacy organization Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, which aims to end hunger in the US and Israel.
"He was at the forefront of social justice in the country generally, and certainly in the Jewish community," Abby Leibman, Mazon's president, told The Washington Post. "You felt that from the moment you were in his presence. There was a force of both passion and compassion that emanated from him in everything he said or expressed."
Mann attended the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial for the in 1963. But the heat got the best of him before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech: Mann fainted and had to be carried away on a stretcher.
Decades later, in 1984, Mann was arrested while protesting apartheid outside the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.
A few years before that, he had visited Cairo at the invitation of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin to celebrate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979. Mann fell asleep during a belly-dance performance but later reminisced on a "remarkable" trip.
"Israelis and Egyptians danced together, clapped hands together and sang together," he wrote in a 2013 essay. "It was simply unbelievable. Even now, 30 years later, I have tears in my eyes as I recall it."
Dr. William Norwood developed a life-saving surgical procedure in the 1980s.
As a young cardiac surgeon, Norwood was troubled by a small group of children at Boston Children's Hospital who had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a birth defect involving an underdeveloped left side of the heart. At the time, it seemed nothing could be done for them. Today, about 1,025 babies in the US are born with the condition each year.
Norwood devised an operation that would eventually become the first of three surgeries to treat HLHS patients. The first "Norwood procedure" was performed in 1981.
"Dr Norwood pioneered the cardiac surgery that transformed the lives of children born with HLHS, giving them a chance of normal life," one parent, Andy Wheatley, wrote on Twitter. "He's also the reason why we were able to have four years with our little boy. Without him, we would've had just a few days."
In the wake of Norwood's death, other parents took to Twitter to express gratitude for his work.
"My 17-year-old son, Danny, would not be with us today if it wasn't for the 'Norwood' procedure, his first of many open-heart surgeries," Claire Evans wrote. "Eternally grateful."
An elder of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe died on Monday.
Jesse Taken Alive died roughly a month after his wife, Cheryl, who also had COVID-19.
"In the end, if we could have listed the cause of death, we would have said he died of a broken heart," his son, Ira Taken Alive, told NBC News.
Taken Alive was chairman of the tribe from 1993 to 1997. He fought for the land rights of Indigenous people, protested the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and called for the University of North Dakota to change its Fighting Sioux nickname (which it did in 2015).
In 2019, Taken Alive welcomed climate activist Greta Thunberg to the reservation in North Dakota. He gave her the Lakota name "Maphiyata echiyatan hin win," or "woman who came from the heavens."
"Only somebody like that can wake up the world," he said at the time, according to the Billings Gazette. "We stand with you."
Eight Roman Catholic nuns died at a Wisconsin retirement home.
Two women, Sister Rose M. Feess and Sister Mary Elva Wiesner, passed away on December 9. By Monday, six more sisters had died.
They were living at Notre Dame of Elm Grove, a residence for elderly and sick sisters in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. The home required masks and social distancing, but an infection detected around Thanksgiving spread to several residents.
"It was quite a shock in a short amount of time," Trudy Hamilton, a spokesperson for the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province, told the New York Times.
Award-winning journalist Rosemary Shinohara died in Alaska on Sunday at 73.
Shinohara spent most of her 40-plus years of reporting at the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. As part of that team, she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.
"Her stories sometimes had a moral compass — she knew right and wrong and her stories reflected that," David Hulen, the paper's editor, wrote on Twitter. "Rosemary wrote simply and clearly and believed in holding public entities and officials accountable. She was drawn to people who were vulnerable and were being overlooked by those entities."
Shinohara got sick just before Thanksgiving, then was hospitalized for the second time on December 6. She passed away about a week later.
"There are pieces of her everywhere: books she has left after her visits, some forgotten reading glasses, a birthday card for my son," her daughter, Michi Shinohara, wrote on Twitter. "All these things that irritated me about her yesterday I am grateful for today."
In a statement to the Anchorage Daily News, Michi lamented the fact that her mother would likely have been among the early groups to get vaccinated.
"We were so close," she said. "We just had to make it a few more months."
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