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Renée Schafer Horton: People who were loved, not just numbers on a chart

Renée Schafer Horton: People who were loved, not just numbers on a chart

COVID-19 is dangerous. Wear a mask. Simple as that.

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

As fires scorch our mountains, COVID-19 ravages our hospitals, and President Trump appears so numb to suffering that there’s really no descriptor for him but “evil,” I glance outside to see what chapter of Revelation we might be on today.

Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse marching down the street, perchance? Seven angels holding seven bowls of God’s wrath?

Luckily no, but there is something amiss in my garden: Half the Roma tomatoes are rotting from the bottom of their little green cylinders upward.

I decide to call the woman who’s been my personal Farmer’s Almanac for the past 35 years, but then, as I have on so many days these past four months, I remember my sister is dead.

Pam died unexpectedly from a freak fall in February, back when the novel coronavirus was something “over there” and we were all still shaking hands and joking loudly in bars and hugging our friends with abandon.

And although I’m desperate with longing for her, I’m grateful Pam died before COVID-19 hit where she lived in California because she was the virus’ perfect feeding ground: 65 with COPD and congestive heart failure.

In the first two months after she died, I cried every day. While that is no longer the case, I still miss her, thinking of her multiple times in my waking hours. When I feed my sourdough starter or reach for the cookbook she gave me 37 years ago or my 4-year-old grandson does something super smart or exceedingly hysterical, I want to call her and just say hi.

Pam filled a very specific place in my life because we shared most of the same passions. It was a different place than the one she filled for our other sister or her children, grandchildren or friends.

Indeed, she provided something unique and irreplaceable for many different people, and her death left a hole that will remain empty for life.

This is what I think about when I read comments online about COVID-19 and mask-wearing. “100,000 cases aren’t that many in a country of nearly 330 million,” one person writes. “Yes, the ICU is full, but they only have 24 beds, so it’s not like we’re overwhelmed with the dying,” another replies. Or, the ever popular, “No one’s forcing me to wear a mask. This is America, not China.”

These comments are more than just self-centered and cavalier, they are callous. They lay bare the inhumanity of the writers and their inability to understand that the 126,000-plus U.S. citizens who’ve died of COVID-19 were more than just numbers.

They were sons, daughters, parents, grandparents, siblings, workers, lovers. They had dogs or cats and loved to paint or tinker with cars. They volunteered in hospitals or on ball fields or for the Police Auxiliary. They wrote checks or used Venmo, supported Republicans or Democrats, went to the ballet or stock-car races. They were each important to multiple people.

The vast majority of them died alone and afraid, their families and friends crying “I love you!” over a phone camera held up for them by a nurse wrapped in protective hospital gear.

Why would anyone — even someone forced to collect unemployment because COVID-19 precautions took their job or closed their business — wish that ending on anyone else?

Except for the most spiritually advanced, most people aren’t thrilled with dying. As a culture, we think it especially awful when someone dies alone, and I challenge anyone to say they want that kind of death for themselves.

And yet, anti-maskers are literally wishing that death — alone, scared, clutching the hand of a doctor or nurse begging them to save you — on strangers because they don’t want to wear a mask.

A recent natural experiment published June 16 in Health Affairs examined daily county-level COVID-19 growth in 15 states and D.C. before and after masks were mandated. The researchers discovered that mandating masks in public slowed the daily growth rate by 0.9 percentage points after the first five days, and by 2 percentage points after three weeks of wearing masks. Masks work.

If you haven’t gotten COVID-19 yet and you’re an anti-masker, good for you! High-fives all around! But just know you are the poison among us, the person who may very well accidentally kill someone, and that person’s death — like my sister’s — will blast a hole in the universe that can never be mended.

Renée Schafer Horton is a local writer. Reach her at and find out more at

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