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‘The Perfect Storm:’ Why COVID-19 Overwhelmed NJ’s Latino Cities

Funeral director Ernie Alvarez leads masked pallbearers carrying Jorge Gamarra's body into Holy Trinity Church in Passaic, New Jersey. Alvarez said now that the state is loosening COVID-19 restrictions, families can gather and grieve. February 26th, 2021.


Ernie Alvarez, 50, sits at his desk in his funeral home in Passaic. He owns a second in Paterson. Alvarez worked in mortuary services during the AIDS epidemic and said he’s never seen anything like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. February 26th, 2021.


Jorge Gamarra, 67, died on February 19th after complications from COVID-19. His daughter, Julie Gamarra, said he loved to dance and was the life of the party. He worked in maintenance at a country club, but Julie Gamarra said she’s not sure how he got sick. Jorge Gamarra lived in Paterson.



Jorge Gamarra’s family members say one last goodbye before his casket is closed and his body taken to the church and cemetery. Gamarra was 67 and died of complications from COVID-19. “I love you so much, Daddy, with all my heart,” Gamarra’s daughter, Julie, said as she read her dad a letter during his viewing at Funeraria Alvarez. February 26th, 2021.


A member of Holy Trinity Church in Passaic, New Jersey squirts hand sanitizer before family members carrying Jorge Gamarra's casket are allowed inside. February 26th, 2021.


A member of Holy Trinity Church in Passaic, New Jersey squirts hand sanitizer before family members carrying Jorge Gamarra's casket are allowed inside. February 26th, 2021.



Ernie Alvarez escorts the casket holding Jorge Gamarra out of Holy Trinity Church in Passaic after a short service. Gamarra’s funeral was the 39th COVID-19 funeral Alvarez has overseen in 2021. February 26th, 2021.


After a morning viewing on February 26th, funeral director Ernie Alvarez wheels a trolley carrying Jorge Gamarra's casket into the hearse in Passaic, New Jersey. Gamarra, 67, was a maintenance worker from Paterson.


Funeral director Ernie Alvarez loads Jorge Gamarra's casket onto a hearse after his viewing at Funeraria Alvarez in Passaic City, New Jersey. Alvarez said through the first two months of 2021, he has overseen 39 COVID-19 funerals, about half of all the services this year. Last April, Alvarez held 150 COVID funerals and turned down more than 100 other families. February 26th, 2021.


Funeral director Ernie Alvarez hands out red roses to Jorge Gamarra's family members gathered at East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton. Gamarra, 67, died February 19th after COVID-19 damaged his lungs. Alvarez owns two funeral homes in Passaic and Paterson, New Jersey. February 26th, 2021.


At the East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton, Ernie Alvarez hands individual red roses to the grieving family to drop on top of the casket. February 26th, 2021.


Jorge Gamarra’s family holds each other at the East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton. Gamarra, 67, died February 19th from COVID-19 complications. Gamarra immigrated from Peru and loved to dance. February 26th, 2021.