Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

We need a COVID-19 Memorial Day to unite the nation

I lost my 62-year-old father to COVID-19 in May of 2021, just two weeks before he would have been able to access the life-saving vaccine and meet his grandchildren. We always thought we would have more time. I am now one of the millions of COVID bereaved. Along with people now living with long COVID, we are being left behind in the rush back to “normal.”

The nation is moving on, but it’s neglecting to give any meaningful space to the millions like me who are forever marked by COVID. COVID has killed at least 6 million people globally, 990,000 in the United States and 7,000 in New Mexico; Experts estimate up to 60% of those infected will face long-term health issues or disability. I’ve talked to hundreds of people across the country whose pain at the loss of a loved one does not show up in statistics, who never had a chance to say goodbye, have a funeral or meet with friends and family to grieve.

As President Joe Biden said, “to heal, we must remember.” That is why we are urging our elected officials to support HR174 and SR334, which would recognize the first Monday of March (as) a COVID Memorial Day and acknowledge COVID’s tremendous death toll, disproportionate impact on low-income and Black, Indigenous and people of color communities and the sacrifices of front-line, essential and health-care workers, as well as those now living with long COVID.

US Sen. Martin Heinrich, DN.M., co-introduced SR334 in August 2021. There is little hope for passage without bipartisan support, but to date, all co-sponsors are Democrats. This national political divide is well illustrated here in New Mexico. The entire congressional delegation has signed on with the exception of Rep. Yvette Herrell, our lone Republican in the House of Representatives.

It is unconscionable to make a partisan issue out of our national grief and suffering, which reflects the private pain of so many Americans. COVID has divided our country, with issues such as vaccines, mask mandates and school closures ripping apart communities, families and friendships. We have to find a way to come back together. A COVID Memorial Day would provide a space set apart from politics and partisanship to unite us in our collective grief, trauma and healing. We must counteract the natural human tendency to avoid or minimize speaking about painful topics and give the nation collective permission to know what they know and feel what they feel in order to move toward a more healthy way of existing in the world. We must give words and coherence to our experience and put it into context and retain the infinite wisdom gained from our tragedy. I urge all New Mexicans to ask their elected officials to support this critical legislation and show the nation what a post-pandemic world can look like.

Janeth Nuñez Del Prado is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a hub leader for New Mexico Marked by COVID.

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