December 5, 2020

Heartfelt Photos from Covid’s Crushing Third Wave

Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune Michelle Schmidt, of Buffalo, Minn., who was taken off her ventilator this morning. "I can breathe" she cried out after taking her first unassisted breaths after extubation.

Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Minneapolis Star Tribune. Caption: Michelle Schmidt, of Buffalo, Minn., who was taken off her ventilator this morning. “I can breathe,” she cried out after taking her first unassisted breaths after extubation.

America has been inundated by a third wave of the coronavirus. And just like in the spring when Covid overwhelmed New York, the visual media focus has turned again to the grief and the danger, and to hospital ICUs. However, this time, with editors and news consumers more familiar with the adversary, the photos seem less clinical and more intimate.

Take these images from New Mexico, for example. The first scene is painful enough as a family photo. That Carolina Garcia allows herself to be photographed through her father’s hospital window, however, is extraordinarily giving of her.


With the focus on the presidential campaign and all thing Trump,  there actually wasn’t a lot of visual coverage of the spike until the last few weeks.  That’s in spite of skyrocketing infection and hospitalization rates through the late summer and fall, especially in the South and Midwest.  Perhaps Biden’s victory has brought with it permission to openly acknowledge reality.

Given the media’s obsession with Trump, the rabid campaign, and the visual vacuum otherwise, I have been wary about the tone of the images showcased by news organizations and the photo agencies. This example pulled me in two different directions. I say, love to Michelle Schmidt of Buffalo, Minnesota, who, taken off her ventilator, was shown experiencing the joy of her first unassisted breaths. At the same time, I want to be mindful of who and how much we’re still not seeing, and the tendency to find the silver lining while we continue to suffer an enormous toll.


By the way, have you been following the story of Dr. Varon in Houston? In October, the photo below was the subject of a Chatting the Pictures highlight video. The patient he is hugging is one of his own nurses after she contracted the virus.

This recent shot not only captures his enduring empathy but marks 250 continuous days on duty.

The latest wave of images doesn’t just capture patients and hospital workers, however. There have also been plenty of images recently that use the trappings of care and the holidays to drive home the magnitude and emotions of the crisis.

This urgent message from Québec, for example, turns holiday bunting into a vital sign in a visual riff on “deck the halls.” The translation:

“Let’s cancel Christmas: Having a modest, even ugly Christmas is the best gift possible for healthcare workers, who are dropping like flies.” Francine Orr of the LA Times employs the same analogy but frames the danger of holiday travel and someone appropriately outfitted.

Finally, this photo posted by a rural ER and family doctor, struck quite a chord. Orchestral in a way, each one represents a goodbye.


Michael Shaw

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

The Big Picture

Follow us on Instagram (@readingthepictures) and Twitter (@readingthepix), and


A curated collection of pieces related to our most-popular subject matter.


Comments Powered by Disqus