WASHINGTON, D.C. — For Kristin Urquiza, her father’s final days remain crystal clear.
“It was 19 days from first cough to last breath,” she recalled.
It was June 2020. There were no treatments for COVID and no vaccines. In the end, for her dad, there would be no going home from the hospital.
“It was the most horrible experience that I've ever been through,” Urquiza said. “Like many people across the country, I couldn't be with him.”
The experience motivated her to start the nonprofit Marked by COVID, which works to bring together people affected by the pandemic.
“That's why us, as folks who've been severely impacted by COVID, are raising our voices and saying we need to do better not only for ourselves and our future generations, but for the people whose lives were cut short because of this crisis,” she said.
Their voices are now raised in calling for a federally-recognized Memorial Day for COVID victims. The proposal calls for it to fall every year on the first Monday in March.
“March will always be, for us, the month that COVID came to the United States and changed our lives forever,” Urquiza said.
There have been temporary, national memorials to COVID victims, like one last year, which was made up of small white flags planted on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“There's so much grief from it that that needs honoring and expression, and that expression is actually the healing. It's part of our mental health,” said Brad Wolfe, founder and executive director of Reimagine, which helps people confront grief and mortality.
Wolfe said a COVID Memorial Day could go a long way in helping the nation process the pandemic.
“It really creates that space in our culture to take a pause, to take a beat and acknowledge what's been lost,” he said.
Federal holidays are created with approval from both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President, much like the now federally recognized Juneteenth was last year.
There is currently one bill in the U.S. House, along with resolutions in both the House and Senate to create a COVID Memorial Day.
Kristin Urquiza said other crises have brought people together before, without a holiday -- but COVID is different.
“If you think about 9-11, if you even think about more recent disasters like fires in Colorado or building collapses in Florida, that local community or the country comes together, looks at one another as Americans and says, ‘I'm so sorry for your loss. I am here with you, to help you rebuild,’” she said. “As a country, I believe that COVID Memorial Day can be an incredible bridge to help bring us together as a nation and heal from the divisiveness that we've been living in.”
It is a holiday that could potentially be created and live on, beyond the COVID era.