Fifteen minutes and 12 seconds.
That was the time it took for Central Union Church’s tower bells to ring out every four seconds for each person who has died of COVID-19 in Hawaii.
The tears of the small group gathered on the grounds to pay homage to these lives fell much quicker.
In addition to the somber notes from the church’s Schulmerich electronic carillon, 228 empty chairs sat on the church’s Great Lawn fronting Beretania street as a visual marker of the lives that have been lost in Hawaii because of the new coronavirus.
The church’s count included the state Department of Health’s official death toll, which remained at 219 on Sunday, plus nine Hawaii island residents who likely died from the virus but whose official cause of death is still pending.
Pastor Brandon Duran, Central Union Church’s acting senior minister, said following the event, “Sometimes we might grow numb to just numbers. We wanted to have an event through the chiming of the bells, the chairs on the lawn, where that number could be seen as being tangible.”
Duran said the noon ceremony was held on All Saints Day because it’s the day where Christian tradition acknowledges those who have died in the last year, a process that’s been complicated by social distance measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
“Today we wanted to acknowledge those that have died because of the coronavirus because we know that during this time of the pandemic, we’ve had to stay socially distant from one another, and that’s been difficult,” he said. “But I think that’s been doubly difficult for anyone that has had to be distanced from a loved one who is hospitalized or ill or who has died because of this virus. Because of that compounded grief, we wanted to create a place where that grief could be expressed.”
Natasha Dator, Central Union Church’s pastoral administrative assistant, said she was touched by the people at the event and those who she could see watching from the the balconies of nearby buildings.
“I talked to a lady who happened to show up, whose husband had died from COVID-19 two days ago,” Dator said. “She said this helped her with the healing. She obviously was sobbing as she heard the bells, but I think it was a bit of a catharsis and it might give her some comfort.”
Dator said the church uses the tolling of the bells to mark significant occasions and to heal.
The bells last played for eight minutes to mark the death of George Floyd, the handcuffed Black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police.
In this case, Dator said, the bells brought home the magnitude of the toll that COVID-19 has taken on Hawaii and the world.
“As we were setting out the chairs and as we were hearing the tolls, it just really made so real the number that we’ve lost just in Hawaii and then if you extrapolate to the nation,” Dator said. “This is real. This is sad.”
The U.S. coronavirus death toll was nearly 231,000 Sunday. The number of confirmed infections in the United States also topped 9 million Friday with 47 states report rising case counts.
Hawaii health officials reported 83 new coronavirus infections statewide Sunday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 15,154 cases.
The Department of Health’s official state death toll includes 170 fatalities on Oahu, 31 on Hawaii island, 17 on Maui and one Kauai resident who died on the mainland.
Sunday’s new infection cases in Hawaii include 53 on Oahu, 26 on the Big Island, one on Kauai and three Hawaii residents diagnosed out of state.
Sunday’s total coronavirus cases by island since the start of the outbreak are 13,186 on Oahu, 1,300 in Hawaii County, 408 on Maui, 99 on Lanai, 65 on Kauai and 17 on Molokai. There are also 79 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside of the state.
According to the latest data from the Health Department, 58 patients with COVID-19 are in Hawaii hospitals, with eight in intensive care units and five on ventilators.