MULBERRY, Fla. - Because so many people loved her at Mulberry High School, Maria Hernandez was known as the "Mulberry Momma Bear."
To Jacob Ritchie, she was just mom.
"It is going to take a long time to heal this type of wound," said Ritchie. "I do everything I do for my mother."
Maria -- an assistant at the high school's guidance office -- died at 55 in January from COVID-19.
Jacob's mother is one of 500,000 Americans, 30,000 Floridians and 6,996 Tampa Bay area residents to suffer the coronavirus's worst fate.
Hillsborough Co. nurse practitioner Steven Neher, Pinellas Co. music teacher Rosemary Collins, Polk Co. Army Reservist Calvin Ogletree, Polk Co. teacher Maria Hernandez, and Ap Nguyen who came from Vietnam to give his family a better life in Florida
"Ever since my mother did pass away, it is something that has totally changed my perspective about COVID. It has really affected our family."
Ap Nguyen died in June in Pinellas County after becoming infected at an assisted living facility.
Ap came to America from Vietnam to give his family a better life.
"One thing my dad taught me was to never let anything get in the way of your success," said his son, Sonny Nguyen. "I do talk to him through prayer, but it is not the same as being able to see him, hold his hand, and just let him know I love him."
The number, 500,000, is so big.
But when one of those is one of your own, the numbers give way to memories. Our country, state and region, is not as whole as it once was.
"She's gone," said Ritchie. "And everybody in the office loved her and they always tell me they loved her. They truly do miss her."
The majority of the 7,000 deaths in Tampa Bay have come from three counties: Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk.