Mourning Amid Coronavirus – The New York Times

The first publicly known coronavirus death in the United States was not reported until Feb. 29 in the Seattle area.

“It was probably around unrecognized for quite some time,” said Dr. Jeffrey V. Smith, the Santa Clara county executive, who is also a medical doctor.

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  • Recently, two studies in California have surveyed people for antibodies. Here’s why their results have been controversial. [The New York Times]

  • “We’re getting inundated.” An Orange County supervisor proposed completely shutting down beaches as warm weather approaches, citing an influx of visitors from Los Angeles and San Diego, where beaches have been cleared. Her proposal died for lack of support. [Voice of OC]

See which beaches and parks throughout the Southland are closed. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Riverside County allowed golf courses to reopen with some restrictions. The links in Palm Springs are among them, but they won’t open right away. [The Desert Sun]

  • Kern County petroleum producers will escape the worst of the U.S. oil price collapse. But they’ll still be hurting. [The Bakersfield Californian]

  • Cal State Fullerton said it would start its fall semester with online classes. It was one of the first universities in the country to take that step amid uncertainty about the coronavirus. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Roommates in a pandemic? It’s not “Friends.” [The New York Times]

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We’re continuing with our remembrances of those lost in the pandemic. (If you’d like to share memories of a Californian who has died, please email us at

For today’s piece, I talked with the husband and son of Patricia Walter about her life and how they’ve adapted their mourning:

She had hoped to donate her body to science. But when Patricia Walter died from Covid-19 on April 11 at U.C. Davis Medical Center, the family was told that wouldn’t be possible right now.

So, instead, Ms. Walter will be laid to rest on the 50th Earth Day. She was 86.

She will be buried in a low-impact, biodegradable wicker coffin. Her grave will be marked with a field stone in a meadow overlooking the section of a cemetery in Placerville reserved for pets.

“She was into all things natural — animals, trees, birds,” Keith Walter, her husband of almost 65 years, said. “So it seems appropriate.”

He lives not far away in Fair Oaks, in a small condo with Ty, a dog, and Tig, a cat.

Ms. Walter grew up in New York State, where she and Mr. Walter met at a mixer not long after they graduated from high school. She wore a red dress, Mr. Walter recalled, and he saw her from across the room. He took her for pizza after the dance and, he said, pausing to laugh quietly, “the rest is history.”

Friends and family members remembered Ms. Walter — she answered to Pat, Patti or “Hey you” — as a vivacious “people person,” a woman who had a way of making you “feel like you were the most important person in the world whenever you were around her,” as one family member posted on an online memorial guest book.

[Read more about how families have grieved in the pandemic.]

She was beloved by colleagues, as well, said Keith Walter Jr., her oldest son, who also lives in Fair Oaks. He told me his mother was one of the few mothers he could recall who worked full time.

The family lived with Ms. Walter’s parents while she worked as an administrative assistant to the dean of what is now Binghamton University’s engineering school.

She enjoyed talking with anyone who passed through the office.

“She was sort of a Mary Tyler Moore,” the younger Mr. Walter, 64, said. “She was in a lot of ways ahead of her time as a working mom.”

And he said he felt as if his mother was able to really focus on her three kids on the weekends, when they spent the most time together.

Later, Ms. Walter and her husband moved around, to Santa Fe and San Jose, to be closer to their children and grandchildren. For about 15 years, the couple lived in a motor home and traveled the country.

The older Mr. Walter said he and his wife loved to bike. They shared a tandem cycle during a more than 500-mile AIDS ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1996, and he teasingly accused his wife of kicking her feet up on the handlebars and smoking while he pedaled.

Riding along the coast together, he said: “That was a very special experience.”

Almost a decade ago, Ms. Walter learned she had Alzheimer’s disease.

The younger Mr. Walter told me that although his parents lived in a senior community where they had some help, eventually her needs became too great, so the family moved Ms. Walter into a memory care home in Fair Oaks.

The older Mr. Walter said that she seemed happy there, that she’d even made a friend — not easy among those suffering from memory loss.

He recalled family meals in a private dining room to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries.

Still, the coronavirus began ripping through nursing homes and other places where people live in close quarters. There wasn’t a viable alternative.

“The idea of bringing her out — we would have had to figure out how to get the additional care she needed,” the younger Mr. Walter said. “It was a set of impossible decisions.”

Eventually, the virus found its way in.

The older Mr. Walter said he and his son were able to visit Ms. Walter just before she died at the hospital in Sacramento where she was in a trial for a treatment.

Both father and son wore “full P.P.E.,” the son said.

Mr. Walter leaned down close to his wife as she struggled to breathe. He heard her say, “I love you.” He told her he loved her, too.

And since only close family will attend today’s burial — standing far apart from one another, wearing masks — the Walters will host a Zoom memorial in May.

Mr. Walter said that, in some ways, the online remembrances have felt more permanent; he and his wife traveled so much and lived so many places that it would have been tough for their friends to make it to town for a memorial even in more normal circumstances.

“I have to look at it as a blessing,” he said.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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