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Life goes on despite COVID-19 pandemic

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, life goes on. People get married, people have babies and people die.

That is a fact of life. Despite our sheltering in place and social distancing, the cycle of life goes on, and we continue to have happy occasions and sad occasions.

Not only have we had nine people in Adams County and another five people in Concordia Parish die of COVID-19, but we also have had other notable deaths, some due to natural causes such as old age and some due to other tragic events.

We were harshly reminded of that fact last week as two young people were shot to death as they sat in a vehicle in a parking lot off of U.S. 61, just north of the Natchez city limits early Friday morning.

Then, early Sunday morning a group of three young men were in a car crash just off Kingston Road at U.S. 61 in Natchez that killed one of the young men and sent the others to hospitals with moderate injuries.

Death is hard to deal with especially when it is unexpected and when it happens to young people, and few people know the harsh reality of death more than coroners such as Adams County Coroner James Lee, who along with coroners throughout the nation, work with death day in and day out.

In Mississippi, the coroner’s responsibilities include “assuring readily available death investigators for the county 24 hours per day for investigating deaths ‘affecting the public interest,’” according to a summary of the job compiled by the Mississippi State University Extension Center.

In Adams County, that means Lee must show up for virtually every death affecting public interest and that not only includes murders and automobile accidents but also any suspicious deaths or COVID-19-related deaths.

It is a tough job even in the best of times but somebody has to do it. In the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, coroners have taken on an extra burden and their work often goes unnoticed by the general public.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began a couple of months ago, Lee has had to pronounce at least two of his personal friends and colleagues dead of COVID-19, and he has written and spoken passionately in favor or sheltering in place and social distancing.

Lee does his job with a great sense of humility and respect for the deceased and their family members and he operates in a transparent manner as is dictated by the “public interest” aspect of his job.

As communities, including Natchez and the state of Mississippi, are relaxing some of the stiffer shelter-in-place orders, Lee has expressed concern for how reopening some businesses might affect COVID-19 infection rates.

Like many of us, however, Lee, too, knows the toll sheltering in place measures are taking on the economy and people’s pocketbooks.

“We have made great progress in containing this coronavirus in the United States but we are not out of the woods yet,” Lee said, adding the shelter in place orders are an aggravation to everyone. “As the COVID-19 virus continues to take the lives of Americans and people throughout the world, don’t relax, attack! Each of us must continue to adhere to the CDC guidelines and stay home orders issued by local and state leaders.”

Lee should know, “I’m not only Adams County coroner, I’ve been a pastor for 30 years and a respiratory therapist for close to 30 years,” he said.

Good advice. Thank you for your service, Lee.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or at scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.