On February 18, the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund honored Tony Pierce for his 20 years of service, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at his Thursday press conference. "Two months later Tony passed away as a result of COVID-19."
Readily acknowledging that this far into weeks of his almost daily coronavirus reports, some people may not be truly listening to him anymore, Turner said he wanted people to hear from someone who has been directly affected by what can be the tragic consequences of COVID-19.
"Every day when I come before you right around this time I give you the numbers — 141 today, four new people who have died as a result of COVID-19. And in many ways when you do that it can be almost sterile, just a number without a face, without a person, without a name. But these are persons and these are families that are being impacted in many cases for the rest of their lives," Turner said.
So he handed over his bully pulpit to Tony Pierce's widow, Gayle Pierce.
Accompanied by her daughter Nia, the widow spoke of how her life changed so drastically within the space of a few days. Instead of going into retirement with her husband, who was 57 when he died, she's now left alone, she said, a single parent doing things she never had to do before.
"Who knew that when I took my husband to the ER on March the 28th, that that would be the last time that I would speak to him face to face," she said, at points struggling to get out the words. "Thank God that I was able to tell him that I loved him."
"He fought for his life for 25 days sedated, intubated and on a ventilator," she said, explaining that she kept a journal of what medical personnel told her.
And she made it clear that she has little use for those who say the pandemic is behind us now.
"COVID-19 is real. Contrary to what we're hearing on television, it's here to stay with or without a vaccine. It's just like the flu virus, it 's going to come back year after year.
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"It makes me mad every time I go to the store and I see dozens and dozens of people walking around unmasked. It's just like we're opening up the businesses, we're opening up the state and wow this is over. We now can go to the beach, thousands of us and just sit on top of each other.," she said, clearly sarcastically.
"I understand that we need to support our businesses, I understand that people need to work but why can you not wear a mask and protect yourself and others?"
Saying her husband now won't ever be able to walk his daughter down the aisle when she marries and he'll never know his grandchildren, Gayle Pierce asked: "Is this really what you want your family to have to go through?"
"The bottom line is, you need to mask up."