Advocates press for COVID day of remembrance as pandemic continues

“This is a collective trauma that we all have experienced and are continuing to experience.”

From left: Jennifer Ritz Sullivan, Megan Hale, and Desire James at a press conference calling for the creation of a COVID-19 Day Remembrance Day. Ritz Sullivan holds a photo of Paula, Hale's mother who died from COVID. James holds a photo of his mother, Florcie, who also died of the virus.
From left: Jennifer Ritz Sullivan, Megan Haley, and Desire James Arsene Versailles at a press conference calling for the creation of a COVID-19 Remembrance Day. Ritz Sullivan holds a photo of Paula, Haley's mother who died from COVID. Versailles holds a photo of his mother, Florcie, who also died of the virus. Provided
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More than 22,000 people dead. Millions sickened.

Three years after the spread of COVID-19 through Massachusetts prompted officials to declare a state of emergency, people across the commonwealth and nation continue to grapple with the impacts of a pandemic that upended and devastated life for so many. 

As the spread of the virus continues for a fourth year, advocates are calling on state officials to create an annual COVID-19 Remembrance Day to create space for the lives lost and ongoing grief, acknowledge the courage and selflessness of frontline and essential workers, and recognize the suffering of those who contracted the virus and carry with them the long-term health impacts of the infection.


Legislation proposing the creation of a COVID-19 Remembrance Day on the first Monday of every March was reintroduced in the state House of Representatives this year, a measure that has the support of the advocacy group Marked By COVID Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and Mass-Care

Gov. Maura Healey on March 1 issued a proclamation declaring that the first Monday of the month was an appropriate day for a “COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day,” declaring that March 6 of this year would serve as that day of recognition.

Jennifer Ritz Sullivan, who established the Massachusetts chapter of the national grassroots nonprofit Marked By Covid, told that while there is other legislation that has been introduced focused on establishing an annual remembrance or memorial day for the pandemic, those efforts tie the recognition to the anniversary of the emergency order. 

But she said she and others who have been advocating for a day of remembrance for years, don’t want the measure to be tied to legislators or politics.

There was so much fear and anger when Gov. Charlie Baker issued the state of emergency, she said. 

“We don’t want that being tied to our losses,” Ritz Sullivan said. “We also feel it’s still going on for us.”


Instead, they want the first Monday in March to be a unifying event for everyone impacted by COVID, whether that be because they lost a loved one, are dealing with long COVID, or suffered financial or other hardships during the pandemic. 

“This is a collective trauma that we all have experienced and are continuing to experience, so we feel having it be on the same day is really important,” she said. 

Ritz Sullivan started volunteering with Marked by COVID in January 2021 after her mother, Earla Dawn Dimitriadis, died from the virus in December 2020. 

“My mother spent the last two-and-a-half weeks of her life slowly suffocating to death,” she said. “And being in the ICU, fully aware that she was dying with COVID …. She died before vaccines. Her biggest fear was to die alone.”

Because of the separation and isolation forced by the pandemic, there hasn’t been a chance for people to grieve together as a community, Ritz Sullivan said. 

Instead, there’s just been a push for “returning to normal,” a move that is not possible for everyone. 

“For people like me, that’s not possible,” she said. “I’m working class, my husband’s an essential worker, I’m disabled and immune compromised. I’m still at high risk for the same disease that killed my mom. People who are at high risk still for death from COVID, we’re cut off from communities still.”


Creating space and visibility for all the people who have been impacted by the pandemic, from essential workers to those who volunteered to support their communities, is vital, Ritz Sullivan said. 

Recognizing the range of impacts has been written into the legislation, Resolution HD.3821, that she and her fellow advocates are calling on elected officials to support. 

The state measure mirrors the federal legislation, which proposes the first Monday in March be established as “COVID–19 Victims Memorial Day,” which Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey reintroduced this week. 

“The effects are going to be felt for generations to come,” Ritz Sullivan said of the pandemic. “This was a catastrophic, unprecedented event. And we’ve all heard that word to the point that we’ve become numb to it. But what we’ve lived through, we have not seen in our lifetimes. There has to be acknowledgement to heal. And I refuse to allow my mother’s death to be in vain. We have to learn from our dead. 

“And there’s so much to learn,” she continued. “There has been a disproportionate harm to communities of color, low-income, disabled, and elderly. And it all points to the inequities in our systems already.”

Francisca Sepulveda, director of the MassCOSH Worker Center, said recognizing the lingering and ongoing costs from the pandemic is crucial.

It’s one of the reasons why she said the coalition has signed on to support the proposed remembrance day. 


“We saw how employers refused to acknowledge that their employees were getting sick and in worst cases, dying, after workplace exposure to the virus,” she said. 

Many vulnerable workers had no choice but to keep physically going to their job site through the pandemic and, after contracting the virus, continue to face health difficulties and work challenges because of long COVID, she said.

“That’s why we think it’s so important [to establish a remembrance day] because we see all these emergency or preventative measures that are being lifted, and people think, ‘OK, they’re being lifted, that means the COVID pandemic is gone, it’s not there anymore,’” Sepulveda said. “So we feel people forget, or employers forget, that they still have to take preventative measures to stop the spread. And we see that at the beginning of every winter when we see that old cases are spiking up again.”

Having a day of recognition is an opportunity, not just to remember, but to keep improving efforts at preventing such outcomes from happening again, she and Ritz Sullivan stressed.

“To move on is a privilege,” Ritz Sullivan said. “Those of us who are impacted, continue to be. The frontline workers and essential workers are still out there every day.”

Something as simple as a day of recognition will provide support that has been lacking for everyone who has been impacted, she said.

It will also provide validation. 


Because although there generally has been support for creating a day of remembrance, Ritz Sullivan said she and her fellow advocates have encountered pushback and seen their losses politicized, and worse, during the course of their pushing for the legislation. 

“I was told my mom never existed; I was called a crisis actor,” Ritz Sullivan said. “My mom was fat shamed in her death. I was told her life didn’t matter because she had ‘pre-existing conditions.’ And that continues. … I’ve never experienced something like this before where people mock your death and mock your grief and debate it. That’s incredibly harmful and just adds to the disinformation and misinformation that continues to allow this virus to spread.”

She called on elected officials and the public to join the effort to establish the remembrance day, to lend support to herself and her colleagues who have been pressing for the legislation even as it forces them to relive their own traumas and their own grief during the course of their advocacy. 

“You look at imagery of disaster sites and when these catastrophic things happen throughout the U.S., you see legislators there, holding families, picking up the rubble, whatever it may be,” Ritz Sullivan said. “But we haven’t had that. We haven’t had an outpouring from folks to check in on us, and we’re struggling.”

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