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As COVID-19 death toll climbs, local residents again remember lives lost
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As COVID-19 death toll climbs, local residents again remember lives lost

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Roughly a dozen Nelson residents and church members stood before several wreaths for a brief memorial on the front lawn of Massies Mill’s Grace Episcopal Church, commemorating the nearly 622,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

On the evening of July 8, under overcast skies, the group stood in silence praying as a bell echoed, disturbing the otherwise quiet mountain area.

This isn’t the first time the rural church has held a memorial service for the COVID-19 death toll. In January and February, church members recognized 400,000 and 500,000 lives lost, respectively. Now four months later, Grace Episcopal Church held another memorial as the death toll continues to climb.

Another 100,000 deaths, another memorial. And for some, as the virus’ delta variant sweeps across unvaccinated populations in the U.S., still no end in sight.

Sharon Ponton, senior warden for Grace Episcopal Church, said it was important not to forget how dangerous the virus is. She said she hoped the memorial can serve as a reminder to be vigilant.

“... Instead of a month to add 100,000 people passing away it took us four months and I think that’s marvelous,” Ponton said. “It has to be attributed to people getting vaccinations. That’s the only thing that’s different is that people have gotten vaccinations.”

As of July 8, there were 621,962 confirmed COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 4 million last week, The Associated Press reported.

The memorial at Grace Episcopal Church, located at 1934 Crabtree Falls Highway in Massies Mill, comes roughly two weeks after Virginia’s state of emergency expired June 30, ending certain protections for wearing masks in public although many places or businesses still require face coverings.

Gov. Ralph Northam declared the state of emergency more than a year ago in March 2020.

According to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health, Nelson County reported 892 cases, 41 hospitalizations and 13 deaths. New cases in Nelson County have remained relatively flat in recent months as more than 53% of residents have been fully vaccinated.

“We have been very lucky but that doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way so people need to be vigilant and pay attention to what’s going on around them,” Ponton said of steady case numbers in the county.

In neighboring Amherst County, VDH reports 3,001 cases, 129 hospitalizations and 40 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. New cases in Amherst County also have been flat in recent weeks, not climbing as much as in months prior with vaccinations a factor.

Nina Beaman, a member of Grace Episcopal Church and dean of Aspen University School of Nursing and Health Sciences, said she felt the memorial “speaks to the massive loss that community, America, friends and family have had over this predator we call COVID-19 and I think it’s a reminder of our civic duty to do everything we can to stop this reminder.”

Beaman urged others to become vaccinated if they have not already done so. The AP reported Pfizer and other widely used vaccines offer “strong protection” against the highly contagious COVID-19 variant that now accounts for most new cases in the U.S.

She reiterated the vaccine not only offers protection but keeps health facilities from becoming overcrowded and health professionals from being overworked.

“If we all get vaccinated then the replication does not occur and the variant doesn’t win. If we don’t then the variant is allowed to replicate and therefore it can do its damage,” Beaman said. “It’s really making the sacrifice that those 600,000 people made; [not being vaccinated is] negating that.”

Nellsyford resident Linda McGrew she was saddened at the circumstances that have led to Grace Episcopal Church holding three memorial services for COVID-19-related deaths. She also hoped the memorial could help encourage others to be vaccinated.

“There’s got to be an end some time,” McGrew said. “I hope. I pray. I sincerely pray we’re not here for 700,000.”

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