For friends and family members of Covid-19 victims, public policy and leadership failures can too often be obscured by private grief and drawn out, exhausting timelines, which include making funeral arrangements in the middle of a pandemic.
Add to that the feeling of being just one case in, at the time of writing, over 16 million cases globally
, and it's easy to see how a loved one could feel too inessential to try to make a big difference.
But I want to remind everyone who has been personally affected by this virus that your stories and voices are important, and I encourage you to use them to the best of your abilities to hold our leaders accountable.
A pandemic is a public health crisis unmatched in scale that requires a leadership and policy response commensurate with the challenge. In the United States, President Donald Trump and governors have shirked that responsibility, downplaying the severity of the crisis and pushing a false narrative that we need to choose between public health and the economy. This is beyond irresponsible. It is flat out wrong and has contributed in creating a situation where countless deaths have occurred, including the death of my mother, a respiratory therapist who died a preventable death.
In March, as a country, we watched in horror as the numbers of people infected and affected by coronavirus skyrocketed in places like New York and New Jersey. California
was the first state to issue a stay-at-home order and soon thereafter the country followed suit.
It was then that I considered leaving the epicenter of the virus in New York and staying with my family in Texas. It was safer there, after all. That was, until the President and governors forced a cavalier reopening strategy down our throats. His push to reopen, all the while downplaying the severity of the virus and politicizing simple non-invasive interventions for safety like mask-wearing, would cause spikes in states across the sunbelt including Texas, Arizona and Florida.
Nine hours into my family's drive across the country to say goodbye to my mom, I found myself wondering if things might have been different had I gone to Texas. I also wondered if my mother would still be alive if she came to visit us in June like she planned. Because we were concerned about the risk where we lived in Brooklyn, she canceled her flight and stayed in Texas, where cases quickly grew. Soon after, she caught Covid-19 from a patient at the hospital where she worked. She died less than a week later. Around the same time, New York reported zero new deaths from coronavirus for the first time in months.
A week after my mother passed, a friend of mine shared a news article
about a woman, named Kristin Urquiza, in Arizona calling out the President and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for the untimely death of her father.
With the article, my friend wrote, "Please let your grief galvanize something deep inside of you. There will be so much unnecessary suffering and death in the next six months unless we find ways to change national state and local leadership. My heart breaks every single morning."
Unsure of what I could do or if anyone would even listen, I threw a shot in the dark. I reached out to Kristin on Facebook so I could commend her on her courage and possibly even get some ideas on where and how to channel my anger.
"I'd like to stay in touch so I could continue to be inspired to keep fighting," I wrote. "It's hard because I just want to grieve and I keep asking myself why I'm trying to help others when they didn't try to save my mom. But my mom deserves for her story to be known - just like your dad does. They didn't have to die. I know that."
Typically, it can be difficult to trace an outcome back to the exact policy or action. During the pandemic, however, the link between federal inaction and widespread mortality is more direct and immediate than ever before. It's something you can literally track by the minute at any number of (non-governmental) data portals. But make no mistake: The federal government's failure to implement research-tested policies is nothing new. We've seen, for example, how the government's refusal to pass common sense gun control or guarantee universal health care,
results in tens of thousands of needless deaths every year.
If the pandemic seems like a breaking point, it may be because the nation's response to it is the culmination of a dynamic that has defined federal policy making for decades.
A decision is made that creates a system that we operate within and build our lives around. From there, we each do our best with the information that we have available. The Trump administration, along with complicit governors like Ducey, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, are making choices that are allowing people to die and that wasn't something I could remain silent about.
Kristin launched "Marked By COVID"
-- an initiative created to collect stories and elevate the truth about Covid-19 in honor of her father, Mark Anthony "Black Jack" Urquiza, who lost his battle with the virus in June. The movement was designed to drive a culture change around Covid-19 prevention to save lives.
When Kristin and I started to compare notes about the rage we felt as a result of the death of her dad and my mom, she asked me if I wanted to write an "honest obituary,"
an obituary holding local officials responsible for the numbers of lives lost. I said yes. She also asked me if I wanted to invite the Texas governor to my mother's funeral so he could see firsthand what it's like to lose a loved one to Covid-19. I also said yes (at the time of writing, I have not gotten a response from Gov. Abbott).
It was a decision that I'm so glad I made.
When my husband and I saw the "Welcome to Dallas" sign on July 21, tired and exhausted, I looked back on the past few days: I had done a handful of interviews with local news stations and newspapers, I had an upcoming interview with CNN, and earlier that day I read a story on the front page of the Washington Post that both Kristin and I had contributed to.
I was holding elected officials from the local level to the White House responsible for the American coronavirus fiasco and exposing their incoherent leadership. I was no longer helpless.
It's so crucial that we continue to put faces and stories to the number of Covid cases and deaths we see in graphs and charts on our screens.
Thanks to Kristin, I had found my voice. Thanks to me, I was brave enough to use it. And now my mom's bravery and heroism is being heard.