Black Washingtonians make up 75% of the city's COVID deaths.
Nearly a year after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the District, the city has reached a grim milestone: more than 1,000 Washingtonians have died from the virus.
On Wednesday, the city reported an additional three residents have died of the virus — bringing the death toll to 1,001. Just days ago, the U.S. surpassed 500,000 coronavirus deaths.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a proclamation Wednesday morning, declaring Feb. 24 a day of remembrance for those Washingtonians who died from the virus.
"These beautiful souls who passed were grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends, and loved ones," Bowser wrote in a statement. "This tragic milestone is a reminder that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities. Even when the pandemic ends, for many, the pain and loss will still be there."
The sobering statistic serves as a stark reminder of the severity of the pandemic, even as the District makes progress in several of its COVID-19 metrics. Since a startling spike in cases earlier this year, the average number of daily new cases per 100,000 has consistently decreased over the past month. Early this week, the city dropped back into the "moderate" range for community spread after remaining at a "substantial" level since November. Hospitalizations have also decreased since early January — with 10.1% of total hospitalizations in the city linked to COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
Still, despite the optimistic outlook for the region's caseloads, death counts plateaued in the past few months at a level higher than what the city saw during the summer and fall, averaging between three and six residents dying a day for much of January and February.
1,000 deaths marks the latest in pandemic milestones for the region. In early December, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia recorded 10,000 total deaths as a region.
Among those lost were public figures, activists, teachers, friends, and community pillars.
George Valentine, a longtime attorney for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Attorney General Karl Racine, died in March. Local civil rights leader Howard Croft died of COVID-19 in June, at age 78.
Carla Thompson was a patient at St. Elizabeths hospital who died of the virus in May — one of 10 deaths reported at the public psychiatric facility. D.C. Public School teacher Helenmaire' White died from the virus in early February after teaching classes in-person, prompting a complaint from the D.C. teachers' union over the system's safely protocols. Family and students remembered White as a woman who "loved hard," and poured her heart into educating.
In some cases, the virus devastated entire families. 74-year-old Congress Heights resident Leslie Leake, her son John Leake Jr., her daughter Nicki Leake, and her future son-in-law all died of the virus last spring.
As has been true throughout the entirety of the pandemic, the deadly impacts of the virus have fallen disproportionately on Black Washingtonians.
Black residents make up 75% of D.C. residents who have died of the virus, despite accounting for only 46% of D.C.'s population. Meanwhile, white residents constitute 11% of deaths, and Latinx residents 12%.
Predominantly-Black wards 7 and 8 have the most and third-most recorded deaths in the city, respectively, with a total of 366 residents lost to COVID-19 between both wards. That's nearly triple the number of residents who have died in the whiter, wealthier wards 2 and 3.
The city's unhoused residents have also been hit hard by the virus: according to D.C. Health data, 25 of the 1,0001 residents who died of the virus were experiencing homelessness.
While leaders are optimistic about cases trending down, so far in 2021, 209 residents have died of the virus (accounting for 20% of deaths recorded since the pandemic began) as the region underwent a massive surge following the holidays. Vaccine rollouts may provide a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, but more contagious variants have been identified in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, which experts worry could threaten the hopeful progress of vaccinations.
"We will never know just how many lives have been saved through our shared commitment to wearing masks and social distancing, but we continue to make these efforts because we know that every single life saved is precious," Bowser wrote in her statement Wednesday.
She has ordered all flags to fly at half-staff throughout the day.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.