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Community marks 472 local deaths due to COVID-19

Students and community members gather at Lycoming College during a vigil to remember the over 470 victims of Covid since the start of the pandemic from Lycoming County Jan. 25, 2022. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

These are not times to despair, but rather to hold the flame of hope.

That was the message Tuesday evening for dozens of guests, all wearing masks, who were gathered outside for a candlelight vigil at the Fultz Quad at Lycoming College marking the passing of 472 lives claimed by COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic about 23 months ago.

Today, more than 26,000 residents in Lycoming County have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr., a flight nurse who had just left his shift, said 26,090 county residents have thus far tested positive for COVID-19.

In fact, 530 deaths have been reported to Kiessling’s coroner office since the spring of 2020, a number different from what was released at the event, and for a reason.

“Our numbers are different because we have five hospitals now and the deaths are reported to this office, but those people did not necessarily reside in Lycoming County,” Kiessling said.

COVID-19 numbers in hospitals are now 391 at Geisinger Medical Center with 65 of those cases in the ICU and 49 on ventilators. UPMC locally had 45 people in the hospital, seven in ICU and two on ventilators, he said.

“Those numbers are gradually coming down, so I think that is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Kiessling said.

Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter, who was not in attendance, offered condolences through a statement to the families and friends in the community who’ve lost a loved one.

Read aloud by Dan Miller, college vice president of Student Life and Dean of Students, who welcomed those gathered as temperatures dropped into the 20s, Slaughter made a reference to his wife, a nurse at UPMC, who has seen the struggles of patients and victories. Such sentiment was not lost on county Commissioner Scott Metzger.

“An invisible enemy that we have faced for the past 23 months has taken so much from us,” Metzger said.

Many have lost businesses, employment, schooling, health and life, he said.

Those who were lost were “beautiful souls,” he said, adding, “they were grandparents, moms, dads, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.”

“Each one touched countless lives and made each of us whole and better people. God gives us the gift of life and he wants us to cherish it each day — also love one another as He loved us.”

Metzger also noted the “tireless efforts by doctors, nurses and countless medical personnel.”

“You are the heroes who go to work every day putting yourselves at risk,” he said. “You are the bridge who keeps them connected and helps them to bring many of the sick back home.”

Pastor Roy Weeden, district pastor, Seventh Day Adventist Church of Williamsport, Milton and Lock Haven, led the group in prayer and the lighting of the candles.

Before that he spoke of the oldest book in the Bible, Job, and how Job’s life was going on as normal until it got interrupted. “At the end of the book, everything was restored,” he said. “Right now, we need to be patient with each other, because we are not done fighting yet.”

“COVID-19 is real,” said Lisa E. Williams, president of Tri-County NAACP, who lost four of her friends to the pandemic.

“COVID does not discriminate,” she said.

“I am the oldest of five, and I’ve had three siblings impacted by COVID-19,” she said.

“It is real, and it is here with us. In order for us to unite together, we have to take care of each other.”

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