CHURCH HILL, Tenn. (WJHL) – A Hawkins County woman hosted a memorial for those who lost their lives to COVID-19 over the last year Monday, as the mayor of Church Hill proclaimed it a Day of Mourning.
Cindi Roberts told News Channel 11 that she organized the event to honor her mother, Jan Harrell, who died in December of complications from COVID-19.
“She got sick right before Thanksgiving and really no one thought it was COVID, we thought she had maybe a UTI, took her to the ER, they really didn’t even think it was COVID either. They just tested her because she was there, and she was positive. So, for the first week, she did great; you wouldn’t have even known she had it really,” Roberts said. “I would have thought the test was wrong, but my dad had also tested positive by that point. She did great and then as soon as she finished up the steroids and the antibiotics, it just hit her like a brick wall and she went into the hospital at the very end of November and ultimately, she passed away three days before Christmas.”
She added that the event was more than just a candlelight vigil or a memorial, it signified that every single person who died of the coronavirus was more than just a statistic.
“I was really just looking for a way, I guess, to make her not a number. She was more than a number, and I feel that we were very fortunate because we did get to bring her home,” Roberts said. “She ultimately, finally, tested negative, although she hadn’t really recovered from the effects of COVID. So we did get to bring her home, and she made it home for a day. I think she knew that she was at home, but so many families didn’t get that. They didn’t get to say goodbye, they didn’t get to even be with them when they passed away, and so that part of COVID is traumatic for the families as well.”
According to data from the Tennessee Department of Health, the local death rate has dropped significantly.
Hawkins County has the lowest rate of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 of any county in the Northeast Tennessee region, data shows. It’s also the only county with a lower rate than the state as a whole and is closest to the U.S. average.
The Northeast Tennessee region’s rate is 16 percent higher than Tennessee’s and 26 percent higher than the nation’s.
“This has been life-changing for so many people and the victims, they are more than a number. Every person counts, every person had a family, and just because your family may not have been affected doesn’t mean that it’s not all around us. There’s just been so much heartache, and I know people in Hawkins County who have lost loved ones in their 40s up to their 80s, so it’s just wreaked havoc on all age groups, all types of families,” Roberts said.
Some of those who attended the Jaycees Park memorial mentioned their loved ones and how the virus impacted their families.
One of those greatly impacted by the pandemic is registered nurse Sandy Squibb. She has just moved back to Hawkins County from South Carolina. Squibb is also family friends with Roberts and her late mother.
“I’ve lost some of my coworkers, and I’ve lost some of my friends, and of course, this is like my family here. We spend all of our holidays together,” Squibb said. “I actually was coming home to spend Thanksgiving with this family, and that’s when the family ended up getting it and I didn’t get to come and be with them.”
As a frontline worker, Squibb implores the public to heed the coronavirus guidelines for their own safety.
“Please take this seriously,” Squibb said. “I can see from state to state, I’m coming from South Carolina to Tennessee and I see people letting down their guards. Please, at this point, we do not have enough vaccinated to let down our guard. We still need to social distance, we still need to get the vaccines, we still need to be cautious because we want to protect, to keep preventing, losing any more loved ones.”
She added that it is vitally important to check on your neighbors in these times.
Roberts said the heart flower arrangement will be left at the Jaycees Park Gazebo until Tuesday afternoon for anyone who would like to pay their respects.
“If anyone would like to stop by if they’ve been touched by COVID in any way, they can stop by and pay their respects,” Roberts said. “We’ve also got a small wreath that they can write names or messages on if they feel the need to do so.”