Families of Those Lost to Covid Wrestle With Mixed Emotions as Emergency Ends

Shannon Cummings, 53, has tried to push forward after her husband, Larry, a college professor, died of Covid-19 in March 2020.

She flew from her home in Michigan to Southern California to attend a Harry Styles concert with family members and friends. Twice a week, she meets with her group therapy classes. She started going out to lunch in public again, a step that took her years.

“We lost over a million people in the pandemic,” she said. “It doesn’t honor any of them to not live my life.”

Yet she is still grappling with the milestone the nation will mark on Thursday: something of an official end of the pandemic, as the Biden administration will allow the three-year-old coronavirus public health emergency — and a separate declaration of a national emergency — to expire.

“I feel like some people never really embraced that there was an emergency going on,” Ms. Cummings said. “It’s really hurtful to those of us who have actually experienced a loss from this.”

The end of the coronavirus public health emergency in the United States comes at a point when vaccines are effective and widely available, testing is easily accessible and treatments have vastly improved since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than 1.1 million Americans have died of Covid, and the rate of death has markedly slowed in recent months. In 2020 and 2021, it was the third most common cause of death; by this point in 2023, preliminary data show, it has dropped to seventh.

But the move by the Biden administration that takes effect on Thursday has landed with mixed emotions for many Americans who have lost family members and friends to the pandemic.

For some people, it has brought worries that the pandemic is being politicized once again.

“What’s triggering is when people say, ‘Now we know we didn’t have to shut things down or wear masks,’” said Kori Lusignan, a resident of Florida whose father, Roger Andreoli, died of Covid in 2020. “I got an intimate, up-close look at the suffering. And it led me to believe that we didn’t make hasty or inconsequential decisions. Those were choices we had to make, and there were good reasons for them.”

For others, it is a welcome acknowledgment from Mr. Biden that the country is in a different place from where it was before.

“I don’t think it’s premature, and I don’t have any hard feelings that he’s going to do this,” said Vincent Tunstall, who lives in Chicago and lost his brother, Marvin, to the virus in November 2020.

Mr. Tunstall said that he was still being more cautious about Covid than many people, wearing a mask when he is in an indoor public space and on his daily commute on the train. Any mention of Covid reminds him of his brother, a lingering pain known only to those who have lost people in the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, when I think about Covid and the pandemic, thoughts of him are intertwined with both of those,” he said.

Pamela Addison, a Covid widow, mother of two and advocate for survivors, said the administration’s decision to allow the emergency to expire was a reminder that the federal government could do more for children who have lost parents and caregivers.

“The kids are overlooked constantly,” she said. “We don’t want to talk about them. It’s like we don’t want to talk about the fact that they exist.”

The end of the emergency declaration could result in new costs for coronavirus testing, because after Thursday, private insurers will no longer be required to cover up to eight at-home tests per month.

Laura Jackson, who lost her husband, Charlie, to the coronavirus, questioned the necessity of the move. Leaving Americans with out-of-pocket costs related to the virus is the equivalent of “dumping this back” on the public, she said, while the country remains unprepared for a future pandemic.

“There’s so much more work that needs to be done,” she said, noting that there were still questions about the origin of the virus in China. “We shouldn’t be turning off resources.”

For Ms. Jackson, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., the end on Thursday of the pandemic’s classification as a public health emergency has nearly coincided with the anniversary of her husband’s death on May 17, 2020. Both days, she said, have filled her with dread.

She still encounters people on a regular basis who deny that Covid is real, or who imply that her husband died because of his pre-existing conditions, a comment that stings.

“I never felt like we acknowledged those who we lost,” Ms. Jackson said. “I feel like we’ve always been in a hurry to move on from it. But it’s still so real.”

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