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Second Annual COVID-19 Memorial

Its been two years since the stay at home order was issued in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. Already fine details are starting to fade from memory. The thoughts that come immediately to mind are of empty streets and offices, commitments to continue daily routines like nothing had changed, and way more Doordash. Amid the changes were questions like how was this mystery virus transmitted? Isn't it just like the flu? How long should I leave my Amazon deliveries in the sun? This'll only last a couple months, tops, right?

It's getting easier to laugh now, but these last two years reshaped the world. We went through so much. But, despite the fear and restrictions and loss, we found a way to carry on. Some of us rose to tremendous responsibilities, others of us had enough of a challenge adjusting to radically different norms.

In difficult times I like to think of a quote by Mr. Rogers; yes, even as an adult. He said whenever there is a catastrophe, always look for the helpers because if you look for the helpers you'll know that there's hope. Here's to the helpers that put themselves in harm's way for us.

  • Our health workers at ground zero battled an unidentified contagion all the while coming into close personal contact with patients n0t knowing if that contact was fatal. Our public safety personnel continued to respond to calls for service as tents were erected in parks in case they became ill and needed to quarantine.

  • We coined a new term - essential workers. A class of people who the U.S. Department of Homeland Security describes as "essential to continue critical infrastructure operations." A class primarily made up of women, people of color, immigrants, and low wage earners. Grocery clerks kept supermarket doors open, and bus drivers continued regular routes. It is an umbrella term that covered pharmacies, child care facilities, gas stations, banks and laundry businesses (as a short list). Essential workers, the heroes of the pandemic, kept the world going.

  • Food security became an issue of major concern as people lost their jobs or were part of sensitive populations that could hardly leave their homes. The Montebello-Commerce YMCA, Heart of Compassion, and Mexican American Opportunity Foundation collectively distributed well over 1 million meals. City of Montebello staff distributed meals to doorsteps free of charge. Our colleagues on the board of the Montebello Unified School District made every school a hub for youth nutrition no matter what school you attended.

  • When it came to testing and vaccinations, Montebello brought resources to our community so we could have services provided within the city. We partnered with Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and the Center for Family Health and Education to host sites across the city including City Hall and the Shops at Montebello.

We can't forget that this virus did not affect all populations equally. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled data evincing there are higher rates of infection and mortality in black and brown communities. Our elders with weakened immune systems who difficulty recovering were the hardest hit. And many who passed suffered painful lonely passings.

Just over two years in we take a moment to remember the 275 lives lost in Montebello. I remember Jose Cano and Bea Garcia who lost their battles with the disease. This past Sunday, March 13, when the city held a memorial in honor of the deceased, two families came up to say the names of those they had lost. In both families the father and mother had passed away. My heart is with them. I can't imagine what it's like to lose both pillars of support within such a short time and so suddenly. Tragically that story has not been uncommon.

In closing, what did we learn from all of this? I'll list three things, but any item in this list could easily be replaced by something else equally important.

  1. Trust the science. Virologists, immunologists, and epidemiologists the world over mounted the largest task force in history to solving a single problem - COVID-19. Observation, research, testing, hypothesizing, testing, analysis, and reporting - aka the scientific method - is a surefooted way to problem solve. It's not perfect, but it's also not conjecture.

  2. Small personal sacrifices can benefit the community at large. Wearing a mask isn't just about protecting ourselves from COVID-19. It is also about preventing the spread and endangering our elderly and immunocompromised.

  3. Checking in on each other is as important as it is easy. With social media, email, FaceTime, and phones, taking time to check in on each other keeps us united and makes us aware of how we can be helpers.

The story of humanity is a cycle of tragedy and triumph, pain and perseverance. We will remember those we have lost, and we will celebrate the helpers.

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