missing them

Help Us Tell the Stories of the New Yorkers Lost to COVID-19

A mobile morgue at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, April 20, 2020.
A mobile morgue at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, April 20, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The disparities in the COVID-19 deaths ravaging New York City extend to who is publicly memorialized.

Fewer than 5% of the nearly 20,000 New Yorkers killed by coronavirus so far have been remembered with a paid or staff-written news outlet obituary or other death notice, an analysis by THE CITY and Columbia Journalism Investigations found.

The team examined English-language media, as well as news sources in a number of other languages, among them Spanish and Korean.

The publicized deaths — defined as accompanied by a victim’s name and other identifying information, such as age, home borough and next of kin — skew male and younger. They also disproportionately come from wealthier enclaves of the city than the general population felled by the virus.

The result: The deaths of some groups hardest hit by coronavirus — including black and Hispanic residents and recent immigrants living in poorer and more densely populated neighborhoods in The Bronx and Queens — often go unnoticed by anyone other than their families, coworkers and friends.

We’re hoping to change that — but we need your help.

Information Wanted

If someone you know — a relative, a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, a client, etc. — lived and died in New York City, and was a victim of coronavirus, tell us about them by filling out this short form.

We’re looking for some basic information — the person’s age, where they lived, when they died and more.

Bronx Community Board 9 member Sharan Fernandez, 63, died April 10 from the coronavirus. A lifelong Bronxite, Fernandez worked in the insurance industry. Her family members remember her for “always helping others.” Her obituary was not published publicly, but her death was announced by the community board on social media.
Bronx Community Board 9 member Sharan Fernandez, 63, died April 10 from the coronavirus. A lifelong Bronxite, Fernandez worked in the insurance industry. Her family members remember her for “always helping others.” Her obituary was not published publicly, but her death was announced by the community board on social media. Photo: Courtesy of the Fernandez Family

But we also want you to tell us what’s the one thing you most remember about the person — what, in your eyes, made them a unique New Yorker.

We’re encouraging people to share pictures, prayer cards, old news clippings — anything that helps us show their life in the city. We’ll also need to know a little about you so we can follow-up as needed, to verify details.

This, to say the least, is a huge undertaking. We can’t promise full-scale obituaries of thousands of people.

We’re still figuring out how we will present the information we receive and are able to verify. We can’t say how long it will take, though we suspect this project will build in stages.

Our goal, though, is clear: to put as many names, faces and details to the numbers as possible.

We’re striving to give a sense of the unimaginable loss our city is experiencing — while sharing both the burden of grief and the comfort of memories as we forge ahead together, as New Yorkers.

Keith Cousins is a reporting fellow for Columbia Journalism Investigations, an investigative reporting unit at the Columbia Journalism School. Funding for CJI is provided by the school’s Investigative Reporting Resource.

The work of Derek Kravitz and Anjali Tsui is funded as part of Columbia Journalism School’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

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