Some of the nearly 900 large poster-sized photos of Detroit victims of Covid-19 are displayed Aug. 31, 2020, on Belle Isle in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Some of the nearly 900 large poster-sized photos of Detroit victims of Covid-19 are displayed Aug. 31, 2020, on Belle Isle in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

How many people has Michigan lost to COVID-19? Enough that if they were all in one community, it would be larger than Wyandotte, Okemos, or Mount Pleasant. 

SAGINAW, Mich.—Jeremy Pluta remembers thinking something was wrong when he couldn’t smell the Vicks Vapor Rub he used one morning after waking with bad congestion. 

The smell of the popular brand of ointment is potent to most people, causing one’s sinuses to react quickly. The Saginaw native’s concerns were only exacerbated when he grabbed a cough drop and quickly noticed he couldn’t taste it. 

Sure enough, a test would later confirm, Pluta had COVID-19. Outside of the loss of his sense of taste and smell, he said he’s been one of the lucky ones. 

“Well, I am vaccinated, thankfully, so that kept my symptoms kind of low,” Pluta, 43, told The ‘Gander. “It’s a little bit worse than a normal cold that I get this time of year. I was running a mild fever for the first four days or so, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore.”

Pluta has been spending the past week locked in his bedroom, trying to avoid spreading the contagious virus to his wife and three children. He said he’s seen the effects COVID has played on friends and family, and wants to avoid putting his family through similar situations. He’s had friends who lost parents and other family members to the virus. 

“I know how it affects people, you know,” he said. “I’ve seen them dealing with it. It’s terrible.”

While Pluta is one of the more than 1.3 million people in Michigan who has tested positive for the coronavirus, he’s sure that being vaccinated has helped him avoid becoming one of the 25,000 Michiganders who died from the virus. He said he was sure to get vaccinated as soon as he could, citing a pre-existing heart condition. 

“I knew that that would make it a lot more dangerous if I got COVID,” he said. 

READ MORE: ‘It’s Not a Distant Threat Anymore:’ How Rural Michigan Is Grappling With COVID-19 Differently

A Community of Lost Michiganders

Michigan reached the 25,000-mark for people lost to COVID-19 on Friday. While that may just seem like a big number, putting it into perspective is pretty simple. 

If those 25,000 people lived in one community, it would immediately become Michigan’s 46th largest community, surpassing communities such as Wyandotte (pop. 24,673), Okemos, (pop. 24,141), and Mount Pleasant (pop. 23,583), to name a few. 

It’s also larger than the entire population of Oshtemo Township, a Kalamazoo County community. 

“It’s scary to think about,” one township resident told CW7Michigan. “You can lose so many people and it’s hard to even think of that number, that you can lose so quickly with something like COVID.”

The number represents more than half of the population of Saginaw, which has around 48,000 residents, according to 2019 census numbers. Pluta says it’s hard to imagine that many people no longer existing.

“It hurts to hear that,” he said. “I mean, even just for Michigan to have that high number of deaths. It hurts.” 

At this point—about two years after the pandemic officially began—COVID has been found in all of Michigan’s 83 counties. Most people know someone who has at least tested positive for the virus. Too many people are familiar with someone who died from COVID-19. 

And things continue to change. New strains and variants of the virus have caused their own issues. The Delta variant was known as a faster-spreading virus, causing infections to skyrocket. While the rate of new COVID-related deaths has fallen in recent months, Michigan hospitals continue to be inundated with patients, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated

Those We’ve Lost to COVID-19

The stories of Michiganders lost to COVID-19 reverberate long after their untimely deaths. There is the story of Albert Barber, who moved from South Carolina to Detroit to marry the love of his life. But after being married in late 2019, Barber died in April 2020. 

“The doctor at Pontiac General used her personal cell phone to allow him to Facetime me to talk to me,” Barber’s wife, Latresa Rice, told WXYZ. “And I was able to pray with him before they put him on a ventilator.”

In Jackson, a couple that had been married for nearly 50 years died within a minute of each other in December 2020. 

Patricia and Leslie McWaters did everything together, their daughter, Joanna Sisk told CNN. They had their children, then grandchildren, and finally great-grandchildren. Then, when one died from COVID-19, the other followed. 

“They literally did everything together and although we’re shocked about it, when we look at it, we also think it’s not so surprising, because they were together all the time and they had so much fun together in life,” Sisk said.

We’ve also been faced with the stories of community leaders who have succumbed to the virus and the trickle-down effect of their loss. 

In Ada Township, the September death of 71-year-old Randy Rand—a well-known driver’s training instructor—was felt beyond his family.  The husband, father, and grandfather was known for owning Jungle Survival Driver’s Training, which was easily recognizable for its jungle-themed cars covered in leaves and cats. 

“I’m just glad that this (the driving school) was his dream and he had this vision and he was able to execute it seamlessly and it’s just grown so much,” Sommer Rand, Randy’s daughter, told WoodTV. “Always drive the ‘Jungle Way’ because he will be looking down on all of us forever and he will know if you’re not following all of the checklists.”

You can find more information about where to get vaccinated in Michigan here