This week marks a year since the first presumptive positive COVID-19 case was announced in Nevada. Since then, Nevadans have endured the upheaval the pandemic has caused in their lives.
There have been close to 300,000 total cases in Nevada, with nearly 5,000 lives lost statewide. Seniors were particularly hit hard; nearly 68% of all COVID-19-related deaths in Washoe County were among those 70 and older.
Darlene Dougherty is a Reno resident who lost her 84-year-old husband, Dave Randolph, in December. They had been married for 45 years. Dougherty and Randolph enjoyed antiquing and traveling together. Randolph started feeling sick around Thanksgiving and was eventually hospitalized at Renown Health in Reno. Due to hospital precautions, Dougherty could not visit her husband or be by his side when he died.
“You know, the saddest thing about the whole situation, not only did he leave this house on the 26 of November ... but because of COVID, I couldn't see him at the mortuary, so it was sadder to have no way to say goodbye,” Dougherty said.
Many others lost loved ones during the pandemic and were not able to say goodbye. Dougherty felt compelled to do something, so she wrote to Dr. Tony Slonim, the president and CEO of Renown Health. Slonim also lost his father during the pandemic and called to share his own story with Dougherty. Soon after, Renown revised the visitation policy in response to her letter.
Frontline healthcare workers have been witnesses to the pain and suffering of people in their care, and the past year has been tough on them.
Dr. Jenny Wilson is an emergency room doctor and the medical director of the ER department at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno. She’s also the medical director at REMSA, the local ambulance provider. She says she bonded with many of her patients, and it’s hard for her and her colleagues to forget those lost to COVID-19.
“You can't help but to think about that as you're going through your daily work, and there's nothing you can do about it other than, you know, wash your hands, wear a mask, socially distance, stay at home,” Wilson explained. “The inability to control that, for me personally, that produced a great deal of pain, and I know that has had a huge influence on the providers.”
The pandemic has also exacerbated food and housing insecurities. In April of 2020, one drive-through event at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno served about 1,000 families in three hours. The rate for childhood food insecurity in Nevada is tied with Louisiana for the worst in the nation, and more than 1 in 10 seniors statewide don’t have enough to eat.
The pandemic’s economic effect on Nevada is ongoing, which has further exposed food and housing disparities. Nearly 38% of adults in Nevada haven’t been able to catch up on their rent or mortgage, and they are now at risk of facing eviction or foreclosure within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Current data ranks the state 50th in the nation for its highest unemployment rate, with about 9% of Nevadans out of work.
Despite the hardships over the last year, Nevadans pitched in to get through the pandemic in different ways. Businesses and individuals made donations to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, neighbors checked on each other, and scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine helped with getting testing materials for the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory when there were shortages due to supply chain issues.
Throughout the pandemic, about 1,400 Nevada National Guard members have served in the largest and longest activation in state history, according to Nevada National Guard Public Affairs Officer Emerson Marcus. Guard members have been helping at the food bank, with COVID-19 testing and now with vaccinations.
Nevada began receiving vaccination shipments at the end of last year. So far, slightly more than 14% of Nevadans have received their first shot, and nearly 8% have gotten both doses. Seniors 65 and up have also become eligible.
For some, vaccinations offer a glimmer of hope that life will go back to normal soon. Sparks resident Steve Speer, who is 70 years old, received his first dose of the vaccine at the end of February at a vaccine clinic run by the Sparks Fire Department. He says he’s relieved to have received his shot because it’s been difficult to live his life to the fullest throughout the pandemic.
“Well, it really curtails what you want to do in life because you want to stay safe. It’ll be nice when we can all get back to normal, and live our lives like we appreciate it, or failed to appreciate it, until it got taken away from us,” Speer said.
“A Year In The Pandemic” shares the unique yet universal pandemic stories of Nevadans, including those who lost loved ones, got sick, or lost jobs and lived through a year of pain and perseverance.
The illustration included in this story is courtesy of Yunyi Dai and is an abstract depiction of the stories featured in “A Year In the Pandemic.” Below is an explanation of her artistic process:
“The imaginary machine I designed in the center of the illustration connects the people around [it],” Dai explained. “It symbolizes the people from the community supporting each other to get through this challenging time.”
The people in the illustration symbolize Nevadans, some of whom are featured in the special. Dai said she included a special nod to Darlene Dougherty, a widow who lost her 84-year-old husband, Dave Randolph, in December to COVID-19. Dougherty was not able to visit her husband at Renown Health in Reno, Nev., due to the hospital’s restrictions to mitigate the spread of infection. The illustrated letter in Dougherty’s hand depicts how she wrote to Renown Health after her husband’s death, which helped change the hospital’s visitation policy.
The novel coronavirus going into the machine represents the public health threat, and the blue and green balls coming out on the other side symbolize human resilience. Dai said that the pandemic has taken an incredible toll and that she honed in on several concepts, including overcoming hardship, hope and the power for good.
Yunyi Dai is a project illustrator for the NPR Next Generation Radio Project and has worked with students of the Reynolds School of Journalism during the NPR Next Generation Boot Camp in May 2019. More of Dai’s work is available at yunyidaiart.com and on Instagram at @yunyidai.
Music in this special in order of appearance: “Coming Storm” by Ketsa; “Leaving for Chicago” by Rest You Sleeping Giant; “No-Light-Without-Darkness” by Ketsa; “Broad Boardwalk” by Julian Winter; “Paper Boat” by Podington Bear; “Solitary” by Bio Unit; “Chicken” by Monplaisir; “The Chorus Ceases (Instrumental)” by Chad Crouch; “Angle of Light” by David Hilowitz; “Something wonderful” by Alan Špiljak; “Cloudbank” by Podington Bear; “Ta-Da!” by Siddhartha Corsus; “Barge” by Ketsa; “Home Means Nevada” by Eric Henry-Anderson, Kailee Foster, Gina Rose, Nick Ali Birdie and Carson High School students.
Anh Gray is the public health editor at KUNR. Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Both Gray and Starbuck are recipients of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF) Jacque I. Minnotte Health Reporting Fellowship.
KUNR’s Michelle Billman and Crystal Willis provided editorial guidance. KUNR’s Jayden Perez and Natalie Van Hoozer contributed to this special. KUNR's Olivia Ali and Jayden Perez provided digital contributions. KUNR’s Noah Glick provided technical support.
As a note of disclosure, Renown Health is a financial supporter of KUNR.