As US Nears 1 Million COVID Deaths, One Hard-Hit Pennsylvania County Grapples With Unthinkable Loss

The United States is nearing 1 million deaths from COVID — an almost incomprehensible number of lives lost that few thought possible when the pandemic began. Pennsylvania’s Mifflin County offers a snapshot into how one hard-hit community, with over 300 dead, is coping.

Connie Houtz didn’t think  would be that bad.

She’d seen many people in this rural hamlet in central Pennsylvania get infected yet recover within a few days. She did not get vaccinated because she worried about how a new vaccine, developed in record time, might affect her heart condition.

Last October, her youngest son, 45-year-old Eric Delamarter, developed a chest cold. He put off going to the doctor because he had customers waiting at his shop where he repaired cars, she said. When he finally went to the emergency room at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID.

Within a few days, Houtz’s oldest son, 50-year-old Toby Delamarter, had also been admitted to the hospital with the virus and shortness of breath.

Less than two weeks later, both of her sons were dead. Neither had been vaccinated.

“Even though it does not seem fair and does not seem right, down the road we will find a reason for why things happen,” said Houtz, 71, as she sat at her kitchen table.

Eric and Toby Delamarter are two of the roughly 300 people who have died of COVID in Mifflin County, where cows grazing in pastures and Amish horse and buggies are frequent sights. The county 60 miles northwest of Harrisburg leans heavily Republican — 77% of votes cast in 2020 were for Donald Trump — and the former president’s downplaying of covid-19 found fertile ground there.

Mifflin has one of the highest COVID death rates among U.S. counties with at least 40,000 people, according to government data compiled by Johns Hopkins University — 591 deaths per 100,000 residents as of mid-March, compared with 298 deaths nationally.

The United States is nearing 1 million deaths from COVID — a number that few thought possible when the pandemic began.

In March 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that based on modeling of the pace of the coronavirus’s spread in the U.S. at that time, “between 100,000 and 200,000” people may die from COVID.

Reaching a million deaths seemed even more improbable when safe and effective vaccines came onto the market in December 2020. More than 60% of the 977,000 deaths have occurred since then.

Mifflin County offers a snapshot into how one hard-hit community moved from skepticism about the scientific reality of the COVID virus, and then about the vaccine, to coping with unbearable loss and processing the trauma. Roughly 8 in 10 deaths nationwide from April to December 2021 were among the unvaccinated, according to the latest analysis of data from 23 states and New York City and Seattle by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more.