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Genesee County may build a memorial remembering COVID victims

“(A COVID memorial) would be a reminder every time we look at it.....we got through it," said nurse Ida Graham
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
A COVID memorial "would be a reminder every time we look at it," nurse Ida Graham says at a news conference announcing an effort to build the memorial in Flint. "We got through it."

In Genesee County, there’s a push underway to build a COVID-19 memorial.

Roughly 5% of the 26,988 Michiganders who have died from COVID-19 lived in Genesee County.

County Clerk John Gleason and others have launched a campaign to build a memorial to those lost, and to the local doctors and nurses who treated the sick and cared for the dying.

Flint pediatrician Lawrence Reynolds said a prominent memorial on the county courthouse grounds would serve as an important symbol, "and remind the community of what we can accomplish, if we work together,” he said.

Nurses have borne much of the burden during the past 21 months, as COVID has swelled the number of patients needing critical care.

Ida Graham works as a nurse at McLaren Flint hospital. She said a memorial would mean a great deal.

“It would remind us why we worked so hard during this,” said Graham, “It would be a reminder every time we look at it ... that we got through it.”

Of course, the pandemic is not over. On Wednesday, Michigan recorded its largest single-day confirmed case rate for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Genesee County Clerk John Gleason was hospitalized for a time with COVID-19. He said building a memorial should not wait. Gleason said he doesn't want the coronavirus pandemic to fade from memory like another health crisis from a century ago.

“You don’t see any mementos, no monuments, no memorials, no evidence of the 1918 flu,” Gleason said.

There is no accurate count of how many people died in Michigan during that flu pandemic, but nationally, it’s estimated 675,000 Americans died. Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate that, as of Wednesday, 820,708 Americans deaths are linked to COVID-19.

There’s not yet a timetable or fundraising goal for the proposed Genesee County COVID-19 memorial.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to doctors and nurses who have been caring for Covid-19 patients "for years." While it sure seems like that, it has only been 21 months. The story has been corrected.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.