WALTHAM – Alex Goldstein doesn’t know when he will stop posting tributes to those who have died from COVID-19.
With a reported 481,000 Americans dead from complications of the disease as of last week and thousands more dying each day, Goldstein’s https://twitter.com/FacesOfCOVID Twitter feed has managed to put a human face on the mass tragedy. With a picture, a sentence or two, and links to obituaries, Goldstein provides more than 145,000 followers a glimpse into the heartbreak caused by the pandemic, and a safe virtual place to mourn.
Teachers, chaplains, pastors, social workers, UPS drivers, firefighters, doctors who treated COVID patients, children, grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters, a Parrot Head, a Kansas City Chiefs’ fan, “a man who fought against the Nazis” and Holocaust survivors, including one who fought in the French Resistance.
There’s Betty Lindsoe of Lynchburg, Virginia, who died at age 91 on Jan. 17, 2021, “less than 10 days before she was scheduled for her COVID vaccine.”
Yet, after nearly a year of posting these tributes day and night, Goldstein has been able to memorialize just 1 percent of those who have died.
“There’s meaning in continuing to tell those stories even after the pandemic is over,” said the 36-year-old communications consultant, who lives in Waltham. “But on the other hand, I don’t think this pandemic is ending any time soon.”
Goldstein started FacesOfCOVID in the last week of March 2020 and he has only taken three or four days off, including Yom Kippur and a few days after the first surge in May, when he needed a breather.
He tries to pull out something from an obituary or submission that if a family member could read that one line and not see the name, they would recognize their loved one.
That’s the case of Carol Mackey of White Rock, New Mexico, who died at age 85 on Feb. 5, 2021. “She ‘loved cats, picnics, bright colors, and seeing where the road, the trail, or the unopened door might lead.’” The post drew nearly 2,500 likes and 255 retweets.
“It affirms the fact that these people had dignity and were unique and lived textured, and nuanced and colorful and meaningful lives and weren’t sort of just cardboard cutouts of people dying of a horrible virus,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein grew up in West Newton, attended Newton North High and graduated from Brandeis University, majoring in politics and minoring in journalism. His bar mitzvah at Temple Emanuel in Newton took place at Newton Presbyterian Church because the temple’s sanctuary was being renovated.
He and his wife, Alyssa, have a rescue dog named Tillie, who he said has rescued them throughout the pandemic.
Goldstein, who continues to celebrates Shabbat with his family, said there are Jewish “touch points” to his work.
“I think that it is an extremely Jewish way to go through a pandemic to bear witness to loss,” he said “You think of all the Jewish rituals around mourning and trauma and so much of it is about being present and not numb, and not disassociating. Covering your mirrors so you can’t get distracted and ripping your garments to acknowledge a loss has happened, to me this is very much consistent with … imploring people to sit with the loss.”
Midway through his senior year at Brandeis, Goldstein wanted to get out into the workforce, so he started volunteering for the fledgling gubernatorial campaign of a then little-known candidate named Deval Patrick in December 2005. After he graduated, he joined the campaign full time.
After Patrick won, he went into his administration “and then kind of went wherever he told me to be for the next six years.”
He was briefly the communications director for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and then served as press secretary for the governor’s reelection campaign in 2010. He later worked as press secretary in the governor’s office, and then as a chief political aide running his PAC, before he went into consulting.
He worked for a firm called Northwind Strategies in Boston for three years, and in August 2016 he founded his own strategic communications company, 90 West, “which is an homage to the Mass Pike,” given much of the innovation in the country starts in Boston and spreads out from there, Goldstein said.
While the five-person firm has been busy working remotely since last March, Goldstein has been moonlighting late nights and early mornings curating FacesOfCOVID.
The early days of the pandemic came with a data-driven message to “flatten the curve.” What was missing were stories about the people who died and the survivors. He started posting stories and obituaries on his personal Twitter feed, and when he saw people engaging, he separated out FacesOfCOVID from his personal account.
One woman who serves as Goldstein’s face of the pandemic is Karen Nascembeni of Lynnfield, general manager of North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. Last spring, she spent more than two months fighting COVID in the hospital and in rehab, including a month intubated while in a medically induced coma. While unconscious, she lost her husband, Steven Richard, 58, and her father-in-law, Earl Richard, 99, to the virus.
Goldstein met Nascembeni as a guest on Jim Braude’s “Greater Boston” on GBH.
“She spoke first,” Goldstein said, “and I listened to her describe with the most unbelievable amount of composure and grace given what she had been through, her story, and I had trouble finding the words to say anything afterwards.”
The pair connected. He shared her husband’s story on FacesOfCOVID, and the pair have stayed in touch and done joint interviews together. “She’s been such an inspiration through all of this … She’s the face of how unbelievably destructive COVID can be, just between her husband and her father-in-law and then being in a coma and waking up and having to find out what had happened while she was … It’s just an unbelievable story.”
“What Alex Goldstein created through FacesOfCOVID,” Nascembeni said, “was profound on so many levels. He humanized this pandemic by putting a face to its endless victims. He gave our grieving families a sense of respect for the memories of our lost loved ones and created a safe place to mourn in peaceful camaraderie.”
Her story continues to drive him to keep doing what he has been for so long.
While the pandemic is far from over, for the first time the site is starting to shed followers, about 20 to 30 a day. Goldstein said it’s not because people don’t care.
“I think they are doing it because it’s just become too much. At some point, people feel like, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t see this every day,’ and I get it. But that doesn’t mean that I can stop.”