The drama at the Delray Beach commission meeting was expected to come from an audit report on the Old School Square Center for the Arts. But another number came up — deeply disturbing and having nothing to do with the beloved and troubled nonprofit.
The number was about death. It was about burials in the city’s municipal cemetery.
Employees of the Delray Beach Memorial Gardens Municipal Cemetery were recognized in September for handling a 60% increase in burials over the past 18 months, according to the city’s Parks and Recreation director.
They were given plaques and thanked for their hard work in keeping the city property attractive and running smoothly, and dealing with delicate graveside services during a very difficult time.
A few on the dais — seated behind and between plexiglass dividers — and meeting attendees — wearing masks — shook their heads when the number was cited, but no one gasped. No one seemed too surprised there had been a 60% increase in burials in the city cemetery.
It’s not a real surprise, after all, is it? We all know that COVID-19 is killing our neighbors. Overdoses and suicides have also been on the rise, but these too often are considered pandemic-related.
The CDC recommends 6-foot distancing and masks, even outdoors, when mixing in a crowd with strangers. But take a drive or stroll down Atlantic Avenue any evening and notice the lack of facial coverings and social distancing: indoors and out.
It’s easy not to care about who is being buried in the municipal cemetery, or not to consider the possible demise of more local residents.
In Palm Beach County, almost 4,000 residents have died from COVID-19. In Florida, the number of deaths has passed 53,000 and across the country, deaths are nearing 700,000.
In a city of 66,846 — with 57,823 over 18 — the chance of knowing one of those people in a coffin increases each day. In 2019, 179 souls were buried in the city’s cemetery. The numbers were 247 in 2020 and 186 so far in 2021. And these are likely a fraction of the overall deaths.
And yes, Delray Beach has had a 6,324 population increase since 2010, but that could have only a small impact on the number of burials. As we look forward with excitement to the coming arts season — including events at Old School Square — please keep these numbers in mind and respect the safety precautions in place.
Yes, there may be more rules to follow this season, but at least you’ll be attending in person again. That’s good news, right?
All of our arts organizations are struggling to come back from months of being closed and are doing the best they can to keep you, their staff and all the talent safe and healthy.
Please do your part and be careful. To keep the arts robust and flourishing, we need to keep our community healthy and alive. There have already been far too many burials in the Delray cemetery.

— Mary Kate Leming, Editor

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