Remembering North Texans Lost in the COVID-19 Crisis

Since March, more than 22,000 Texans have died from COVID-19, including more than 3,500 in North Texas

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When there’s a new death tally each day, it can be tempting to let the numbers fade into white noise.

But with new cases of COVID-19 swelling and projected to hit more than 3,000 a day in both Dallas and Tarrant counties, we can't just change the channel and pretend it's not happening.

To put that into perspective, at the peak of the summer surge, Dallas County reported 30 deaths in one day. That’s more than the number of people killed when a man opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs.

In November, more people died than in the 1985 plane crash when Delta Flight 191 crashed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Throughout the pandemic, there have been more deaths in North Texas than there were in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that left our nation stunned.

We don’t share those events to compare one tragedy with another. The point is to remind you that we’re talking about people whose lives have been lost.

They’re people like Robert Rhodes who dedicated his life to teaching the next generation of lawyers at Texas Christian University.

robert rhodes
NBC 5 News
Robert Rhodes

"In the classroom he just sparked this level of joy and passion for learning that's just indescribable,” said Rhodes’ colleague and TCU professor Suzanne Carter.

They’re members of law enforcement like Chester Holt, Dennis Oliver, Bronc McCoy and Alex Arango.

Chester Holt, Dennis Oliver, Bronc McCoy and Alex Arango.
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Members of North Texas law enforcement who died after contracting COVID-19: Chester Holt, Dennis Oliver, Bronc McCoy and Alex Arango.

"He had a job to do and he went out doing it,” said Officer Arango’s family member.

Among the North Texans who’ve died, you’ll find a school bus driver, a lawyer and a popular Dallas chef.

NBC 5 News
NBC 5 News

Some of them were known to the world, like country songwriter and longtime radio personality Bill Mack, while others were the world to their families.

"They're our heroes and you're lucky to be half as good as they are,” said Tim Tarpley who lost both of his parents to the virus.

tim tarpley and father
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Tim Tarpley, left, with his father, right.

And then there are those who've lost their lives in the service of others, the healthcare workers fighting the virus on the front lines.

Among them was 64-year-old respiratory therapist Isabelle Papadimitriou from Dallas.

“Had we been better, smarter about this and just worn a mask when we went outside, then I think she'd still be alive today,” said Papadimitriou’s daughter Fiana Tulip.

Isabelle Papadimitriou
NBC 5 News
Respiratory therapist Isabelle Papadimitriou.

For each of those lost, you’ll find spouses, children, nieces and nephews, grandkids and friends.

“It does have that ripple effect,” said Zak Cernoch who lost his sister to COVID-19.

It’s a club of sorts that in which no one chooses to be included.

"Nothing will ever be the same in our lives or a lot of people's lives,” said Cernoch.

For nearly all of them, goodbye took place over a telephone.

Norma Flowers
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Norma Flowers' family says goodbye through the telephone.

Rather than hold her hand, Norma Flowers' children and husband of 68 years said their final "I love you's" via a screen. 

It was similar for Nettie Cunningham's children who watched their mother fade away from behind glass.

"She didn't get any family touch or love,” said Cunningham’s daughter Carla Smith.

Nettie Cunningham
NBC 5 News
Nettie Cunningham, left.

Ofelia Hernandez’s daughter Merlyn Gandara was still in tears as she told NBC 5 about her mother’s final moments.

"With COVID you can't hold them. You can't be near them. You're literally dying alone and people don't understand that,” said Merlyn Gandara.

Hernandez was just 46 years old.

Ofelia Hernandez
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Ofelia Hernandez

Since the pandemic began, we've listened to and shared stories like those from more than two dozen families. The one thing nearly all have shared is a warning.

"This virus is real. It's not a joke,” said Jerry de la Riva, a friend of late Dallas chef Luis Dominguez.

It’s a plea to be careful, if not for yourself, for those who are compromised and the families they would leave behind.

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