FRANKFORT, Ky. – The most 10,000 Kentuckians lost to COVID-19 over the past 20 months were honored in a simple and dark ceremony on Sunday where an image of a memorial to those who died was unveiled.
Lexington artist Amanda Matthews selected the winning design from dozens of artists from across the United States.
It features a polished steel globe surrounded by bronze statues of adults and children rising upward with small globes and bears the state slogan “United we stand, Divided we fall”.
Matthews said after the ceremony she was “in shock” but deeply honored when she was called recently by Governor Andy Beshear who told her her design had been selected. Matthew said his goal through the memorial is to show the need for unity, especially in times of crisis.
“It’s basically a closer look at the meaning of our state motto,” she said.
The statue, which will be completed later this year, will be placed on the Capitol grounds in an area known as Monument Park. It is funded by donations, particularly from the main state hospital systems.
Beshear, who spoke at the hour-long event on Capitol Hill, called it “another heartbreaking step in this war on COVID” and urged people not to go numb at the toll that ‘he did.
Deaths in Kentucky are now equal to or greater than the size of some of the state’s smaller towns and counties, Beshear said, comparing them to towns such as Versailles, Morehead or Corbin.
“Imagine one of these cities suddenly empty and you will have an idea of the collective loss this state has suffered,” Beshear said.
Several speakers reflected on the COVID-19 losses, including Jaqueline Woodward, of Franklin, Ky., Whose husband, Gary Allen Woodward, a medic, died of COVID-19 in November 2020.
“I know how devastating this time has been for so many people,” said Woodward, speaking through tears. “I have lost my husband for 45 years, Gary.”
Woodward said her husband contracted COVID-19 at the Nashville hospital where he worked to help treat COVID-19 patients.
As a member of the advisory committee that helped select the memorial’s design, Woodward said she hoped it would bring comfort and peace to those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“Our loved ones are not just a number,” she said. “He is someone who meant so much to so many people.”
Rabbi David Wirtschafter, with Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, recalled the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s speech in Gettysburg when remembering those lost to COVID-19.
“The world will hardly remember, nor will it long remember what we say here, while it will never be able to forget what they did here,” Wirtschafter said, citing Lincoln’s Civil War speech at the time. of the inauguration of the National Soldiers’ Cemetery.
Wirtschafter said he hoped the state could find unity in the face of collective loss at a time when COVID-19 “has tragically become not only a health care crisis but also a political crisis” with disputes over the need for vaccines, face masks and other precautions.
Beshear held a similar ceremony in March to mark the first anniversary of the day the pandemic hit Kentucky. At this event, as the state neared 5,000 deaths from COVID-19, Beshear announced the start of a fundraising campaign to raise funds for a memorial in honor of those who have died
Kentucky exceeded 10,000 deaths of COVID-19 on November 8 when it reported that 10,019 people had died from the virus.
The death toll stood at 10,214 on Friday.
Most of the deaths in recent months have been among people unvaccinated against COVID-19.
After a lull in early spring and summer, where deaths fell to single digits, the state reported as many as 50 or 60 deaths per day as an increase in COVID-19 cases drove them hospitalizations at record levels.
Dr Monalisa Tailor, a Louisville physician at Norton Healthcare and president-elect of the Kentucky Medical Association, said such deaths are “heartbreaking,” especially those that could have been prevented by vaccination.
“It’s very sad,” she said in an interview last week. “It is very unfortunate that we have had so many deaths this year.”
The vaccines first became available at the end of December 2020, initially in limited quantities.
In the spring, with vaccines more widely available, cases and deaths began to slow, before an increase that began around July driven by the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19.
About 60% of all Kentuckians are vaccinated and health officials hope this will increase with vaccine approval recently enlarged for children aged 5 to 11.
Still, Tailor fears that with the approach of colder weather, people indoors closer together and the holidays ahead, cases could rise again without more people being vaccinated.
“It makes me nervous,” she said.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman concluded Sunday’s ceremony by reminding all those who do not need to be vaccinated and those who are eligible to receive a “booster” vaccine.