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Remembering the dead on COVID-19 Memorial Day

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake village board has declared today as a COVID-19 Memorial Day, a day to commemorate those who died during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This follows a grassroots nationwide movement to make March 1 a national day of remembrance.

It has been around a year since the pandemic first took hold in the U.S. as it spread around the globe, and in that time the virus has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 in this country alone. This huge loss of human life has led several activist groups to seek a specific day to collectively mourn the dead and reflect on the loss.

While a resolution to recognize the first of March as “COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day” awaits a vote in the House of Representatives, over 100 mayors and boards around the country have designated the day themselves.

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau brought the resolution to the town board at its Feb. 16 meeting, saying the day will be for, “commemorating all those who suffered and passed away during this pandemic.” It passed unanimously.

March 2020 is when the World Health Organization first declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and is when the world, U.S. and New York began lockdowns, testing and seeing deaths caused by the virus.

“To recognize the value of the human life lost is certainly the most important thing,” Rabideau said Sunday. “We’ve lost people in the village. People in the village no doubt have friends and relatives that have passed away. … These are all important lives.”

In total, 13 COVID-19-related deaths have been counted by the Franklin County Health Department and 25 by the Essex County Public Health Department.

Many of these have been residents of nursing homes. Some have been inmates. Others have been members of the general public.

The village links to the website covidmemorial.online, which collects and shares stories of people killed by the virus, shared by their families and friends.

“Because we’re still in the pandemic there’s nothing more planned than that,” Rabideau said.

The organization Marked by COVID, which called for a day of remembrance for the dead, says that 146 mayors in 36 states have declared March 1 as a COVID-19 Memorial Day.

Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers said she loves the idea.

“Every day of my life I mourn for the people we lost at the nursing homes; mourn for the people that died,” Beers said.

Beers said the North Country has been largely “spared” from the worst of the virus, through its rural environment, vigilant work by public health employees and cooperation of the general public.

She said it is “heartbreaking” that some people still do not believe the virus is real, or that it is just a flu. when more than half a million Americans have been killed by it.

“What does it ever take to effect change?” Beers asked. “It has to be personal, I think.”

Adirondack Health Spokesperson Matt Scollin said a lot has been learned in the last year and that everyone will need a long time to digest the events of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a little difficult to reflect on it when were still very much in the middle of this thing,” Scollin said. “We’ve basically been lurching from challenge to challenge.”

He said at first it was the fear of the unknown; then there was a shortage of personal protective equipment supplies; then hospitals planned for possible surges of COVID-19 patients; and then dealt with a lack of testing. Now, he said they are dealing with administering the vaccines, dealing with issues in the vaccine supply chain, and wondering how to handle the emerging variants of the virus.

Scollin said many in the health care industry are facing burnout after spending a year in a constant emergency mindset and need a time to reflect, too.

Beers said the virus has “taken a toll” on the staff of local health departments. Many, like Essex County’s, are small, she said, and they have been working holidays, weekends and long hours.

Scollin was glad Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake, run by Adirondack Health, has had no COVID-positive residents through the entirety of the pandemic. Staff have tested positive, he said, but thanks to their perseverance they have successfully kept it out of their elderly population.

The same has not been true at other nursing homes in the state.

Beers said people should also think about all the families who were “robbed” of their chance to be by their loved ones’ side as they died in nursing homes or hospitals.

Both said the living can best respect the dead by making sure the virus claims fewer lives in the future.

“Move forward in the right spirit,” Beers said. “Take the vaccine when you can. … Stay socially distanced. Wash your hands. I know people are tired of hearing me say it but it works.

“Don’t let them die in vain,” Beers added. “Don’t let their memory be that we continued this on for three more years.”

Scollin said available doses of the vaccines are getting snatched up as soon as they come in to Adirondack Health.

“It’s the only way that we’ll ever put this thing to bed,” Scollin said. “Reaching herd immunity, the fastest way to do that is to embrace this safe and really remarkable vaccine.”

Both said they are relieved the North Country has fared better than other regions during the pandemic. Beers said she believes there is “some light at end of tunnel.”

For March 1 be become a national holiday as COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day it would need to pass the House and Senate. Currently there is no Senate resolution to set it as a holiday.

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