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‘Faces Of COVID’ memorializes Americans who have died during the pandemic

Transcript

Geoff Bennett: Each day, the Twitter thread faces of COVID posts, the names, images, and a short remembrance of Americans who have died from COVID-19. The project was started by Boston-based communications consultant Alex Bernstein (ph), who has posted more than 7000 remembrances since starting the feed in March 2020. I recently spoke with Bernstein, and started by asking him about a recent post on the site, about 25 year old Teddy Nelson, who died of COVID on April 11, 2020. And because of hospital COVID protocols at the time, Teddy was in quarantine, no family, no friends could visit him in his final hours.

Alex Bernstein: Unfortunately, so many of the stories that were submitted the Faces of COVID over the last two years are people who did not have their loved ones at their side when they passed away. So many people said goodbye by FaceTime, or via zoom. And I think it's a reminder just how much pain and trauma we have yet to process, not just for the folks who have lost somebody they love, but for the broader community overall and across the country. You know, what does it mean, to process a million people who were not -- who are not here now, who were here two years ago, I don't think we've even begun to really examine what that is going to take and how much work we have to do to bring some peace into people's lives.

Geoff Bennett: Is that why you wanted to start this this Twitter account, Faces of COVID?

Alex Bernstein: Yeah, you know, I think first and foremost, I started the account because I thought that we needed to really affirm the dignity of the people who have lost their lives. And I think we did a really, I think, highly credible job of telling a data driven story about the number of people who were sick, the number of ventilators that were needed, the number of people who were losing their lives each day, but they were cold statistics and with that, out knowing the names and the faces and the stories behind those numbers I felt we were doing a disservice to those who had died into the families who were left behind, who I think more than anything, we're looking back, you know, through the window to the rest of the world saying, do you see what we're losing? Do you see the pain that we are all enduring? Because I think so many of the rituals we've come to rely on, when we lose people that matter to us in our lives have been stripped away from us these past two years, and that we need to find the types of spaces and avenues for people to mourn that grief together.

Geoff Bennett: As you've curated this account, what story stand out to you?

Alex Bernstein: You know, I think about a lot of different kinds of stories. Sometimes it's the stories of young people who had their entire lives ahead of them, and were robbed of decades of joy in their family's joy, because of this pandemic. Oftentimes, it's the stories of just frank injustice, of people who should not have been lost, but were forced to work without the proper protective gear or forced to work while they were sick. Or the people who were lost because of systemic misinformation and anti-science aggression around vaccines. I think there's just so many different ways in which this pandemic has brought indignity to the lives of people at the very end of their lives.

But, you know, more often than not, the stories that linger with me the most are the ones in which I see my own family and my own friends in the faces and the names and the stories of others who I never knew. And I think that's really part of the point, which is, if we can see ourselves in the suffering of others, if we can see our own loved ones in the stories of people who have lost someone, I think that is a step towards all of us making better public health decisions, and seeing our stake and looking after each other.

Geoff Bennett: So much of this pandemic has been politicized whether or not to wear a mask, whether or not to get a vaccine, whether or not you should get a booster shot. And yet you have gone to great lengths to make sure that this account is in no way partisan. Why was that important to you? And how have you done that?

Alex Bernstein: Well, I part of it is that I don't think that we need to establish a litmus test for what we grieve and who we grieve together. I think that the reality is that I wanted to create a space where anyone who had lost someone could use that space, to be a part of their mourning process and a part of their grieving process.

I think one thing I've learned is that we have an instinct to assume that we know an awful lot about people's lives. And this last two years has reminded me that we don't know that much about the different struggles that people face and what leads to the decisions that they make. And I've tried not to make this a place that passes judgment, but rather a place that's more healing and open to create a venue for people to wrestle with that brief together and with strangers they've never met.

Geoff Bennett: One hopes that at some point COVID is eradicated, are you going to keep this going?

Alex Bernstein: You know, I was doing the back of the envelope math the other day and realize that with 7000 stories, that puts me fairly significantly under 1% of the losses that have been shared through this account. So certainly, there are just countless other stories to tell. And so long as there is still families that are seeking a level of acknowledgement and, you know, affirmation of what they have been through and the trauma that they have experienced, I will still be sharing these stories and feel like it's a responsibility to do so now that this opportunity exists.

Geoff Bennett: Thank you for your efforts. Thank you for shining a light on so many stories and stories that deserved to be elevated. So thank you. Thanks for your time.

Alex Bernstein: Yeah, absolutely.

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