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On the afternoon of Thursday, October 22, 2020, Worcester residents had the opportunity to visit this beautiful heart-shaped memorial outside of City Hall. Embraced by a wreath of green resembling the city’s seal and individually placed in small glass vases, these 296 single red roses represented the 296 city residents lost to COVID-19 complications.
As beautiful they were, these roses were a haunting reminder that this pandemic wasn’t over. Far from it, in fact, as Worcester, along with many other MA cities, was beginning to see an increase in cases as winter approached. This memorial was a plea to the people of our city: “stay safe—we don’t want any more roses.”
1918 Flu Pandemic Headlines
COVID-19 wasn’t the first. Over 100 years prior, the 1918 flu pandemic affected our city in some shockingly similar ways.
On September 19, 1918, the Worcester Evening Post reported the first of the nearly 1,300 deaths in Worcester over the course of the 1918 flu pandemic. Following the death of James Roche, a 25-year-old sailor who was visiting his parents on West Street, the number of infections in the city rose drastically. Local hospitals soon found themselves overwhelmed and forced to close their doors to new patients, prompting the construction of an emergency field hospital.
On November 10, 2020, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that the state is preparing more field hospitals—including Worcester’s own DCU Center—as the number of COVID-19 infections continue to surge across the country.
Facemasks have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic since the very beginning. What started as a medical supply shortage evolved into a decisive political issue and eventually took shape as a coronavirus cultural phenomenon. We’ve seen communities band together to mass produce masks for local hospitals, like these Red Cross women back in 1918, and we’ve seen individuals embrace masks as a form of self-expression and identity during a time of extreme isolation. In more ways than one, masks have become the most indelible icon of this pandemic.
On October 10, 1918, the Worcester Evening Post published this headline announcing that the city’s closing ban had been made indefinite—a somber parallel to how many Worcester residents are feeling in November of 2020. Nearly eight months after the initial lockdown in March and the subsequent reopening of select establishments over the summer, we’re once again feeling the weight of COVID-19 as the city experiences another surge with the arrival of colder temperatures.
On November 12, 2020, state health officials announced that there have now been over 10,000 COVID-related deaths in Massachusetts since the onset of the virus—174,953 confirmed cases, 26,201 active cases, 10,015 deaths. As the days go by, it’s impossible not to become numb to the numbers. But people are more than numbers and statistics—we must remember their names. Their faces. Their stories.
Joseph Vo Van Ngo, Bay Thi Huynh, and Kim Chi Nguyen-Ngo
In 1980, Joseph Vo Van Ngo and his wife, Bay Thi Huynh, escaped a poverty-stricken and Communist-ruled Vietnam. Although it had been arranged, their marriage of 60 years was one of love and inseparability—their eleven children often saw them holding hands and kissing. On May 8th, they were taken to St. Vincent Hospital with flu-like symptoms.
On May 14, 2020, Joseph Vo Van Ngo, 85, and Bay Thi Huynh, 82, passed away from COVID-19 in the same room, holding hands, within minutes of each other. Their daughter and caregiver, Kim Chi Nguyen-Ngo, 50, died five days later from the virus.
Maria E. Monterrosa
Born in Santa Ana, El Salvador, Maria E. Monterrosa worked as a tailor for many years after graduating high school, and she was an active member of the Assembly of Christian Churches, New Jerusalem in Worcester. She loved fishing, going out to eat, and spending time with her family, especially her six beloved grandchildren.
On September 17, 2020, Maria E. Monterrosa passed away at the age 73 from COVID-related complications.
Maria C. Martinez Cabrera
After Hurricane Maria in 2017, Maria C. Martinez Cabrera moved from her hometown of Naranjtio, Puerto Rico to Worcester, MA. She is remembered by her family as a loving sister, wife, mother, and grandmother. Maria had been living with Alzheimer’s disease at the Odd Fellows Home of Worcester before being transferred to the Umass Memorial University Campus on May 5th, where she tested positive for the coronavirus.
On May 11, 2020, Maria C. Martinez Cabrera passed away at the age of 88 from COVID-19.
Salvatore P. Panzera
Born in Worcester during the outbreak of the 1918 Spanish Flu, Salvatore P. Panzera lived a full life with his family, friends, and music. He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston with a master’s degree in vocals and percussion, eventually returning to Worcester to sing with Saint Paul’s Cathedral Choir. Sal was also the co-founder and president of “Parents and Friends of Monson Developmental Center,” a group that advocated for the rights of mentally disable children and young adults. During his retirement, Sal and his wife of sixty years, Mary, enjoyed spending many weekends in Ogunquit, Maine.
On April 23, 2020, Salvatore P. Panzera passed away at the age of 101 from COVID-19 complications.
Born in 1925, Eva Zuspann lived in Worcester her whole life and was the owner of Eve’s Coiffures for 38 years. She was an active member of the St. George Orthodox Cathedral—for which she baked the best Holy Bread every week—and the Worcester Area Hairdresser’s Association. During World War II, Eva ran lathe and milling machines at Norton’s to support America’s efforts during the war, earning her the nickname of “Rosie the Riveter.”
On April 23, 2020, Eva Zuspann passed away at the age of 95 from COVID-19 complications.
Have you lost someone to COVID-19 that you would like to be remembered in this exhibit? Share their story to our archive and send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your request.