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Newspapers filling with death notices as coronavirus spreads

Just some of the obituaries in Sunday's Boston Globe.
Just some of the obituaries in Sunday's Boston Globe. (Image of Boston Globe)

Sunday’s edition of The Boston Globe contained a shocking visualization of the coronavirus pandemic: page after page after page of death notices.

The obituary section in Sunday's print edition spanned 16 pages. This time last year, there were seven. The increase is a stark illustration of the devastating toll the pandemic is having on Massachusetts and New England.

"It's literally showing it in black and white how deadly this virus can be," said Jaclyn Reiss, the Globe's digital editor, in an interview with CNN.

And while Reiss noted there was no immediate way to determine how many of the death notices that filled pages A-13 to A-28 came from coronavirus victims -- death notices don't always say how the person died -- several of them mentioned a battle with the virus.

The section has "been growing every Sunday since the coronavirus pandemic has been surging here in Massachusetts," Reiss said, adding that the previous Sunday, the paper ran 11 pages of death notices.

Reiss explained that besides the increased death toll -- 1,706 people have died as of Monday afternoon -- the uptick in death notices could be because families aren’t able to hold wakes and funerals now. With no time constraint to publish a death notice before scheduled memorial service, families could be submitting their death notices to be published on Sunday when the paper gets higher readership.

It's not just the Globe

The Globe, of course, isn't the only paper to mark an increase. Newspapers in other hot spots around the country are seeing a drastic rise in the number of obituaries and death notices they are publishing.

In Louisiana, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate published more than eight pages of death notices on Sunday.

"On the same weekend last year, there were about four pages devoted to obituaries," according to an article in the Advocate. There were approximately 25,000 cases and 1,328 deaths in the state as of Monday afternoon.

The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, published 109 obituaries across nine pages of its April 12 edition, A year earlier, there were 17 obituaries on one and a half pages, according to nj.com. New Jersey has reported more than 85,000 cases and 4,362 deaths, second only to New York.

Connecticut's Hartford Courant published 12 pages of obituaries on Sunday. The state has about 18,000 cases and 1,127 deaths.

"It's more than I've ever seen. On a Sunday, you'd see at the most three, maybe four pages, so it was about triple what we normally do," said Rick Green, the Courant's assistant managing editor.

America's new reality echoes what Italy went through in March.

The Eco di Bergamo, a newspaper in the hard-hit region of Lombardy, normally publishes one page of obituaries. On March 14, 10 pages of obituaries filled the newspaper.