Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus pandemic is not over
Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
Bourbon Street in New Orleans is mostly empty in this March 19 photo. As of Thursday, Louisiana had reported more than 17,000 cases and 652 deaths. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

When Anthony Franklin Jr. woke up after fighting a fever in mid-March, he missed a call from his father, Anthony Franklin Sr.

He returned the call, and learned that his 58-year-old dad’s fever had also spiked and he was struggling to breathe in the emergency room. His grandmother, 86-year-old Antoinette Franklin, and two of Franklin Jr.'s uncles, 71-year-old Herman Jr. and 61-year-old Timothy, were also in the New Orleans hospital, all suffering from pneumonia, doctors told the family.

All four hospitalized family members eventually tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes covid-19, Franklin Jr. told The Washington Post. Their conditions fluctuated between dire and in need of a ventilator, to near-recovery before deteriorating completely.

“My uncle Herman passed first,” Franklin Jr. said. “Then two days later, my grandmother passed. Then three days later, my dad passed. Then, I think three days later, my other uncle, Tim.”

Meanwhile, several other family members ran fevers. One of Herman’s sons ended up in the hospital and eventually recovered, but not before the small funeral for the brothers, his cousin told The Post.

“I want the world to know if it happened to the Franklin family it could happen to any family,” Jacqueline Franklin, who had two sons with Anthony Franklin Sr., told WDSU News. “My children have to bury their father, their precious grandmother and their uncles. Let’s not let this happen to another family.”

The Franklins’ tragic losses came just as Louisiana emerged in mid-March as a hot spot for the coronavirus. Since then, the outbreak has spread significantly. As of Thursday, Louisiana had reported more than 17,000 cases and 652 deaths. An outbreak in New Orleans, where the Franklins live, is fueling the state’s high death rate.

Some have blamed local and federal officials for inaction when tourists flocked to New Orleans for spring break and to celebrate Mardi Gras in the city’s crowded French Quarter.

“People did not realize it was spreading,” Rebekah Gee, a former state health secretary and current faculty member for Louisiana State University’s medical school, told The Post. “So people not only caught beads, but they caught covid-19.”

‘We were not given a warning’: New Orleans mayor says federal inaction informed Mardi Gras decision ahead of covid-19 outbreak

Nurses in New Orleans describe the dangers they face as they struggle to care for covid-19 patients in hospitals and assisted living facilities. (Video: Robert Ray/The Washington Post)

As the outbreak grew dire, politicians in the state changed their tone, quickly. Louisiana lawmakers have come together to offer bipartisan support for the social distancing policies that have slowed the growth in coronavirus cases in recent days.

The virus has spread rapidly in many communities, and frequently strikes multiple members of the same family. Another family in New Jersey endured a difficult battle with the coronavirus when seven relatives got sick with covid-19 and four died in March.

For families like the Franklins, who lost so much so quickly, the restrictions did not come soon enough.

Franklin Jr. told The Post that doctors did not officially determine how the family members had contracted the virus. But the number of people sick within the family, and the timing of their illnesses, offered Franklin a clue.

On March 2, almost three weeks before Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) issued a stay-at-home order for the state, Antoinette Franklin celebrated her 86th birthday. Though the family did not have a party, people came in and out of her New Orleans home to wish her well throughout the day.

“At that point, I think somebody came over who had it but didn’t have symptoms,” Franklin Jr. said. “And everybody kind of got it. Everybody who got sick came over that day.”

Public health experts believe up to a quarter of people who contract the coronavirus may not show any symptoms. Those “asymptomatic carriers” can still transmit the disease to people, even though they appear healthy, which is why people are being told to stay home and wear masks in public.

But the stay-at-home and quarantine precautions in place now had not been initiated when Antoinette celebrated her birthday.

“It wasn’t a big deal then,” Franklin Jr. said. “Nobody even thought twice about going and seeing her for her birthday. It was just a normal day.”

While it remains unclear whether the birthday celebration contributed to the outbreak, covid-19 devastated the Franklin family and their community.

Antoinette Franklin had been a pillar of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Anthony Franklin Jr. told The Post. She had been attending services there since the 1960s. Many churchgoers wanted to attend her funeral, but attendance was restricted because of coronavirus precautions. People were only permitted to sit in every other row of pews, one perched on each end of the benches, as far apart as they could manage.

“When you think of that church, you think of her because she’s been there forever,” her grandson said.

Antoinette Franklin had 12 children, according to her obituary. Her three sons who also died from complications of covid-19 had a smaller viewing and service on Friday, and no more than 10 people were allowed inside the church at a time.

“It was kind of an eerie feeling,” Franklin Jr. said. “In the church, it was three caskets. It was a crazy sight. Nobody really wanted to even stay inside. Everybody was walking outside to go to the gravesite.”

Franklin Jr. said his father was the “life of the party” and a dedicated family man who would help his cousins through tough times when they were growing up. He retired from managing the food court at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service near New Orleans.

“He made everybody laugh,” Franklin Jr. said. “I made a toast for him after it was all over and said, ‘This is for the guy who was there for everybody.’ ”

While living with his mother in New Orleans, Timothy Franklin was a “baseball junkie,” someone who could name every player on every team, and reel off the stats of his favorites.

Franklin Jr. said his uncle Herman had eight children and was committed to mentoring his nieces and nephews. He remembered him as the uncle who helped the younger generation with their finances and improved their credit scores, skills he gained after years working for a car dealership.

“I counted on my Uncle Herman a lot,” he said.

While his grandmother, father and uncles were in the intensive care unit on ventilators in adjacent rooms, Franklin Jr. continued to feel ill and run a fever. The day Franklin Jr. went to the emergency room to be tested for the coronavirus, his father was feeling better. The intensive care unit doctors said if he continued to improve, he could be taken off the ventilator in a few days.

After Franklin Jr.’s test results came back negative, doctors told him to take a fever reducer and rest. When he woke up the next day, Franklin Jr. texted his dad to ask how he was feeling. He didn’t text back.

His breathing had deteriorated rapidly. The same thing happened to Antoinette, who doctors had hoped could move out of the intensive care unit, Franklin Jr. said. Both of his uncles also showed signs of improving, he added, and were almost taken off their ventilators before their health suddenly declined.

“It was crazy,” he said. “It was like all of them, all of a sudden, just turned for the worse.”

The other Franklin family members who got sick after Antoinette’s birthday have recovered, he told The Post.

“Everybody’s just staying inside and just trying to figure it out,” he said. “People should really have a grasp of what’s going on and understand the moment, and also understand what preventive care you actually should be taking. You need to take these things seriously.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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