NBC 6 Investigators

Family Shares Sorrow After Losing Loved Ones to COVID as Deaths Rise Across Florida

Charts produced by the New York Times and reviewed by the NBC 6 Investigators showed more people died in Florida in 2020 than the previous five years on average

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NBC 6’s Willard Shepard shares Derek Harvey’s story about losing his wife and mother-in-law.

The pain on Derek Harvey’s face said it all.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow and it takes time to heal from that,” he said from his home in Pembroke Pines.

Harvey’s painful journey is like 44,000 other families in Florida now. They lost someone they love to COVID-19.

Harvey’s wife, Pamela Ford Harvey, isn’t with him to make him laugh like the first time he laid eyes on her at a food truck.  

“She was there taking all the special sauce and I said 'Could you leave some for somebody else?' She said 'I was fixing some for you' and from there we just jelled,” Derek told NBC 6.

The story brought a smile to his face, a memory of their first moment over the special sauce and Pamela’s great comeback that brought the pair together. Harvey said he didn’t think it was going to happen as about two weeks went by before she called him.  

Derek says she had to pass her “background check”. Those were the good times.

Its been a year now since Pamela died from COVID. She was a longtime employee of the Broward Sheriff’s Office.  

"They set up a camera where I could see her—a video chat—but she was already gone. She was already gone,” he said.

Pamela is just one of the people represented on charts produced by the New York Times and reviewed by the NBC 6 Investigators showing more people died in Florida in 2020 than the previous five years on average. 

Courtesy New York Times

“We have probably grossly underestimated the true death toll worldwide for this horrific pandemic,” Dr. Aileen Marty from FIU said, adding that’s because the pandemic kills on two fronts.

“The pandemic affects directly and indirect.  Directly, I get COVID and I am so sick and I die that’s a direct affect. But I have a heart attack and I am scared to go to the hospital because there’s COVID patients and I don’t go on time and I die. That’s indirect,” Marty said.

Another chart showed the waves of the pandemic, according to data compiled by the Times. The chart shows COVID cases have surged twice in Florida, then hospitalizations spiked and eventually deaths.

“In terms of deaths, those always come later than when you get diagnosed," Marty said. "They come several weeks down the road. So, we can expect a rise in death.”

Because Florida has stopped giving daily details about cases and deaths as it did in 2020, it’s difficult to accurately track what’s happening now. The Times' data shows on average, 263 people are dying a day currently - a 91 percent jump over mid-August - which is highest rate in the United States.

Each loss is a person like Derek's wife and even her mother.

"The whole time I was worried if my wife did wake up, how would I tell her about her mom,” he said.

His mother-in-law died shortly before Pamela did. He’s spent the last year counting on family to support him.

“Try to keep my head up,” Derek said. “We live in uncertain times and we have to try to take care of each other.”

Derek says that means getting vaccinated. The state’s latest numbers show the number of people rolling up their sleeves for vaccinations the last two weeks is double what it was in early July.