Grey's Anatomy Gets Real About COVID-19 Deaths Ahead of Winter Finale

Grey's Anatomy honored many of the real-life people who have died of COVID-19 as Bailey dealt with the death of her mother.

By Lauren Piester Dec 11, 2020 4:02 AMTags

Grey's Anatomy is almost always devastating, but tonight's episode was on another level. 

As Koracick (Greg Germann) and Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) continued to deal with their own bouts of COVID-19, Bailey (Chandra Wilson) discovered that her mother's care facility had a huge outbreak and her mother was extremely sick. So sick, in fact, that she wasn't going to make it a day in the hospital. 

Bailey had been quiet about the fact that her mother had Alzheimer's to keep from bringing up bad memories for Meredith or Richard (James Pickens Jr.), but the fact that her mother was dying without even knowing what was happening was really hard on her. She tried talking to a sleeping Meredith (and Meredith tried to talk back on the beach) and she really let loose with Maggie (Kelly McCreary) about their Black mothers and watching them die. 

Richard and Jackson (Jesse Wiliams) also pointed out to each other that they were seeing a huge proportion of Black and brown patients dying of coronavirus, and as Bailey said goodbye to her mother, she started reading out names in voiceover. The episode then ended with a long, long list of names on screen. 

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Zoanne Clack, who wrote this episode of Grey's Anatomy and serves as one of the medical advisors on the writing staff, explained that the names were inspired by her own experience, fearing her mother was dying of coronavirus. 

"The inspiration for saying the names in the final voiceover was multifactorial," Clack said. "When my mom contracted and almost died of COVID, I was so mad that she might go down in history as one of the nameless, faceless ramifications of this disease. I was seeing how it was disproportionately affecting Black Americans, older Americans, and people who lived in assisted living. My mom was all of those. But she was also a teacher who has influenced many successful lives and she has an infectious laugh. That was the story I wanted people to remember, not that she was a victim of a pandemic. Fortunately after a long and hard fought seven-week battle, she is now a Covid survivor. So she doesn't have to be one among many. But there are so many who are among the many and who deserve to be more than numbers or statistics." 


"The mom of another one of our writers, Barbara Driscoll, was 97 and had fought off numerous other infections and illnesses before she succumbed to Covid within one weekend," Clack continued. "I'd be remiss to overlook the death of Brittany Bruno-Ringer, the 32 year old nurse who took care of patient zero at my mom's memory care facility, who worked tirelessly without adequate PPE taking care of my mom and the other dementia residents. I watched helplessly as two parents from my 'Caring for Parents with Alzheimer's' support group died within days of contracting the virus."

Clack explained where each of the names that Bailey listed came from. 

"'Jacob Lappin' from the voiceover is a mix of Jack Lappin (the great grandfather) and Mitchell Lubitsch (the lover of Broadway). 'Wade Klein' is Warren Klein, the brother of one of the on set medical producers on the show, who also happens to be a nurse," she said. "And 'Dane Wilson' is Diane Wilson, an ICU nurse in Paris that passed during the first surge in Europe."

Clack has a website called Medscape with a feature titled, "In Memoriam, Health Care Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19." Anyone can submit the names of colleagues, friends and family members to be remembered. 

"As of July 1, the list included more than 1800 names from 64 countries ranging in age from 20 to 99," Clack said. "The last update was Dec. 3 so no telling how many names are on it now. The final inspirations came from (1) the powerful article in The New York Times that named the 100,000 lives we had lost to COVID at that point (An Incalculable Loss, published at the end of May) and (2) the BLM movement where protestors held up the names of black lives that are now resting in power. 'Silence is compliance' became a battle call for me, and the framing of this episode was my reaction. It is my small contribution to lived lives full of substance not being forgotten."

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There's just one more week of Grey's Anatomy and Station 19 before a lengthy hiatus, and in the winter finale, Grey Sloan becomes overloaded while Owen (Kevin McKidd) and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) are faced with one of the most controversial surgeries of their careers. Plus, Meredith is still very much asleep and recovering from coronavirus, and there's likely at least one more appearance by Patrick Dempsey to go.

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Station 19 and Grey's Anatomy air next Thursday, starting at 8 p.m. on ABC.