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2021 in review: The faces of COVID

For millions of families, 2021 was another year of heartbreak. We remember the loved ones we lost and lessons learned in the Mid-South.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For many families, 2021 was another year of heartbreak.

"We just need to stop, pause, reflect and memorialize those lives that we have lost," said Michalyn Easter-Thomas, Memphis City Council District 7.

Loved ones, young and old, gone.  

Rebecca Kershaw described her daughter, 35-year-old Sarah Jane Guzman, as a devoted mother, wife and music teacher.

RELATED: Arkansas family urges others to get vaccine, daughter died before it was available

“There's no replacing her, we just have to figure out how to move on without her,” said Kershaw.

Anne Darst is a Baptist Memorial Hospital nurse, with 36-years of experience. She lost her father, Joseph, to COVID-19.

RELATED: 'We need your help. We cannot do it alone.' | Baptist nurses lay out the strain & challenges during COVID-19 surge

“They put the Ipad up to my dad's ears and we all said our final goodbyes," said Darst.

48-year-old Theotis Quarles left behind his wife and five daughters.

RELATED: Mother of five who lost husband due to COVID-19 offers plea to community

“The kids are so young and it's hard to explain to them,” said his wife Vickie Quarles. “Especially when they're constantly asking where's their father."

In January, the future seemed more promising as mass vaccination efforts continued. 

Slowly but surely, people went back to work. After a year and a half of virtual learning, Shelby County students went back to class.

RELATED: Some Shelby County Schools students will go back to in-person learning this week

"At the end of the day, the safety is priority,” said Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray. “I know if students are sick, they can't come to school and if they can't come to school, it has a direct impact on student achievement."

But this summer, cases began to surge as a new strain hit the U.S. hard and attacking the most vulnerable.

“This surge really affected children,” said Dr. Sandy Arnold, LeBonheur Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “We had the hospital that was full. We had multiple respiratory viruses circulating.”

RELATED: "She was my hero" | Parents of 11-year-old who passed from COVID complications speak on daughter's strength

RELATED: Le Bonheur confirms a child who was positive for COVID-19 died over the weekend

The Delta Variant took the lives of several kids, including Westwood High School student, Azorean 'Zo' Tatum, and 11-year-old Jordyn Franklin of West Memphis, Ark.

In local hospitals, health care workers were there until the last breath.

“I can't tell you the number of times I've had to watch tearful members of the healthcare team use their own cellphones to do facetime between patients and family members,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist.  “And many of those patients didn't survive.”  

RELATED: Pfizer vaccines available for Shelby County children just in time for the holidays
By November, kids ages 5 and up were rolling up their sleeves for vaccines. Adults were approved for booster shots.

As the omicron variant quickly spreads, millions are ending 2021 in a familar way, with hope and uncertainty.

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