LEWISTON, Mich. — The conversation at the card table inside the Lewiston 50 Plus Club turned one recent afternoon to the coronavirus pandemic, as it had so many times the past two years.
Just days earlier, the club’s president — and one of its most devoted euchre players, Danny Burtch — died of the virus after weeks of suffering from covid-19.
Burtch was the 40th person claimed by covid-19 in sparsely populated Montmorency County, in the backwoods of northern Michigan. The grief has hit particularly hard at the 50 Plus Club, knocked down in so many ways during the pandemic. Members falling ill. Shutdowns causing the club to shutter. Staffers run ragged keeping the center safe for the vulnerable people who congregate inside its walls.
“It seems unfathomable,” said Randy Long, 67, the club’s vice president and a local radio host, clad in a Santa hat, his cards face down in front of him. “I’ve spent almost eight years with this guy … and for him to just be gone, taken away in less than four weeks by a virus, getting your head wrapped around that.”
As health-care leaders pleaded with Michigan residents to take the virus seriously and to get vaccinated, Burtch was among several thousand mostly unvaccinated patients who flooded the state’s hospital wards during the fall and early winter. For weeks, Michigan led the country in covid-19 deaths, and the 71-year-old retired electrician, with no major health complications before contracting the virus, was among them.
Two years into the pandemic, the story of Danny Burtch is the story of incalculable loss and of hard choices: whether to be vaccinated, whether to leave the isolation of home for fellowship, whether to partake in a beloved game of cards.