Almost one year after the first known US coronavirus death, activists and community groups are calling on officials to memorialize the more than half a million Americans who died with an official Covid Memorial Day.
More than a hundred events will take place across the United States on Monday, March 1, to remember those who died from Covid-19, as well as to call for a holiday and permanent memorials in their honor.
Marked By COVID, a grassroots movement dedicated to collecting stories about those impacted by the virus, and Reimagine, a non-profit organization that helps communities celebrate life and honor the dead, are leading the charge. Other groups, including Rose River Memorial and the Floral Heart Project, are also involved in the effort.
The groups will host individual events and join together for a virtual COVID Memorial Day Vigil.
“We must respond to this crisis commensurate to its scale,” Kristin Urquiza, co-founder of Marked By COVID, told CNN. “Memorialization and recognition of our losses cannot wait any longer. Recognition from the federal government is essential.”
Helping people process grief
Rose River Memorial, one of the groups hosting events, is collecting one handmade felt red rose for every American who has died from Covid-19. The rose is the national flower of the US.
The group said it will erect four rose installations on Monday in California, Texas and Missouri.
When the group has enough roses to represent each life lost, it will combine the community projects to create one giant art installation.
“We are underway but there is a long, long way to go. If we built the memorial today it would spread over three acres, which is 1,000 parking spaces or 32 basketball courts,” founder Marcos Lutyens said in a news release. “To build the national installation next winter, we need more than 22,906 roses made and mailed to us every month from now until then. These numbers are growing — tragically — by many hundreds of deaths every. Single. Day.”
The Floral Heart Project, another participating group, will lay over 100 floral hearts created by volunteers across the US.
Founder Kristina Libby believes the visual displays will help mourning families to process their grief.
“Historically (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, WW I and II) in moments of trauma, we see flowers, photos and memorial services,” Libby told CNN in an email. “Those visual symbols help people process grief and importantly build community. Strong communities lessen grief. So visual public memorials are actually a helpful way to build community.”
Volunteers with Floral Heart Project will also host meditations and community vigils, where people impacted by the virus can share photos and stories of loved ones who died.
The groups will then collectively hold a virtual vigil.
A growing movement
In addition to the events, groups are calling on government officials to establish a national holiday and permanent memorials to honor the dead.
Reimagine says on its website that mayors, state legislators and members of Congress are supporting the effort, and that more than 50 mayors are sponsoring a US Conference of Mayors Resolution to recognize March 1 as Covid-19 Memorial Day.
Rep. Greg Stanton, an Arizona Democrat, said he will also introduce a House resolution to make the first Monday in March “Covid-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day.”
“Commemorating this Memorial Day is an important marker for all those affected by this pandemic,” Stanton said in a news release. “Long after our nation moves beyond this most grim episode, we will need to collectively recognize all those we lost and the aftershocks of what we experienced.”
Marked by COVID and Reimagine are asking officials to form a Covid Memorial Committee to establish permanent memorials in every state so that residents can collectively mourn and remember those who have died.
“The call from the community is clear: our grief must be recognized and respected if we are ever to heal and unite,” Urquiza said. “We need ways to publicly grieve, heal, recognize, learn, and prevent this from ever happening again. This must happen immediately and as one united nation.”