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Amid pandemic, AFSCME members deal with painful loss

By AFSCME Staff ·

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AFSCME members have risen to the challenge: caring for patients, aiding those hurt by the economic fallout, even dealing directly with the deadly consequences of the virus.

With more than 220,000 Americans dead, the scourge of COVID-19 has left virtually no one untouched. Some AFSCME members, even as they keep working to help their communities get through this difficult time, have faced the impossible: the loss of loved ones from this pandemic.

Ketha Otis, a vocational rehabilitation technician from Local 2862 (AFSCME Florida) in Miami, lost her stepfather to the pandemic.

“He was a vibrant 88 years old,” said Otis, who remembered him growing vegetables in his garden and giving them away to his neighbors.

Belinda Torres’ family has been dealing with the death of her 57-year-old brother from COVID-19. He and his wife both contracted the disease and were admitted to the hospital. But when she was discharged, "that was the last time she got to touch him or say goodbye to him or kiss him,” said Torres, an analyst for the state of California and an AFSCME Local 2620 member.

Both Torres and Otis are angry about President Donald Trump’s failure to stem the pandemic.

“The ironic part is he voted for Trump,” Torres said about her brother. “He was a Trump supporter, and he died at the hands of Trump's policies.”

Otis said instead of focusing on the crisis, Trump is focused on his own reelection.

“There's no lesson learned from this man. He has learned nothing, and he will continue to be a danger to America,” she said.

But both are hopeful that Joe Biden will be able to turn things around if he’s elected in January. Otis admires the way Biden leads by example, modeling social distancing at his events and always wearing a mask in public. Both she and Torres believe the plan Biden has proposed to fight the pandemic will make a real difference, in stark contrast to Trump’s inaction.

Like thousands of AFSCME members, Otis and Torres are planning to vote in this election and are urging others to join them. Their painful losses serve as calls to action. As Torres says of her brother: “His death will not be in vain. He lives on and survives in us.”

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