Alex Goldstein started the Twitter account @FacesofCOVID in March of 2020 to help him make sense of grief.
The account has been his way to honor some of the nearly 600,000 people who have died in the U.S.
Even back in March 2020, Goldstein knew something was wrong. The communications specialist's home city of Boston was hit early and harshly from virus. As the death toll climbed and businesses shut down, he started to feel overwhelmed. How could a virus kill so many and yet he knew so few of its victims? Who were the people who had passed away from COVID, and what were their stories?
RONNIE "BRO" BALDWIN, 63, of Chicago, died of COVID on June 12, 2020.— FacesOfCOVID (@FacesOfCOVID) June 12, 2021
He was a bus operator and a carpenter by trade who ran his own maintenance business and trained many within the community to do handyman jobs. “He is terribly missed.” pic.twitter.com/uhpVhS74tL
He created FacesofCOVID to learn those answers. He has posted over 5,000 virtual obituaries from newspapers and families of those who have died.
"I think that the story at the beginning of the pandemic was largely a data story. We were getting thrown all these numbers thrown at us — hospitalizations and cases and deaths," Goldstein tells Morning Edition. "I found it really hard to process and I felt like, we were missing the human element of that story."
One of the things that made this pandemic especially difficult was the lack of mourning rituals. Families saw their loved ones one last time from iPads in isolation wards. Many funeral homes did not let more than 10 mourners at a time attend a service due to regulations. In a time of immense grief, people couldn't mourn in familiar ways.
MASSACHUSETTS -- DAVID & MURIEL COHEN, of Longmeadow died on the same day, hours apart, in the same room.— FacesOfCOVID (@FacesOfCOVID) November 2, 2020
David was a WW2 veteran & a liberator of the Ohrdruf concentration camp who taught children about the horrors of the holocaust.
Via @emilysweeney https://t.co/rb9lbzeBpq
"It's a place where they can share their loved one's story and see people from all over the country and all over the world saying, 'Your loved one meant something, and even if I didn't know them, we are all less because they're not here anymore, and we all share in your sadness,' " Goldstein says.
As long as COVID-19 continues to exist and take lives, Goldstein plans on running the account.
"I don't want us to immediately lose sight just because things are reopening," he says. "There's a lot of pain out there, and if FacesofCOVID can help people slow down a little bit on their impulse to change the channel, I think that can be a good thing."
Tori Dominguez is an intern at Morning Edition.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
As the death toll began rising in the earliest months of the pandemic, Alex Goldstein felt overwhelmed.
ALEX GOLDSTEIN: The story at the earliest moments of the pandemic was largely a data story. We were getting all these numbers thrown at us, hospitalizations and cases and deaths. And I found it really hard to process.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Goldstein runs a communications firm in Boston.
GOLDSTEIN: The traditional rituals of saying goodbye to a loved one have been robbed of us. We - most people did not get to have a funeral. Many people did have to say goodbye via Zoom or an iPad.
INSKEEP: So he started posting simple obituaries on Twitter, just to name, age, a few words about their life and a photo.
GOLDSTEIN: David and Muriel Cohen of Longmeadow, Mass., passed away on the same day in April. David was a World War II veteran and a liberator of the Ohrdruf concentration camp in Germany. They were at each other's side until the end.
MCCAMMON: The Twitter account is called @FacesOfCOVID. He's posted more than 5,000 obituaries. He writes some while others come from family or friends.
GOLDSTEIN: So this platform that's very public actually has become important to some people because it's a place where they can share their loved one's story and see strangers from all over the world say your loved one meant something.
INSKEEP: Mr. Goldstein says he feels connected to the names and the faces even though he's never met the people. At times, it's been overwhelming.
GOLDSTEIN: I was sharing a story every half hour through the month of April. And I burnt myself out. It was, like, too much tragedy to even begin to kind of wrap your arms around.
MCCAMMON: Even though the pandemic is declining in the U.S., Goldstein says it's too early to stop.
GOLDSTEIN: I don't want us to immediately lose sight just because things are reopening. And if @FacesOfCOVID can help people slow down a little bit on their impulse to change the channel as quickly as possible, I actually think there can be some good that comes from that.
MCCAMMON: He says his @FacesOfCOVID Twitter account will continue indefinitely.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANGUS MACRAE'S "SOLSTICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.