Kristin Urquiza, whose obituary of her father who died from the coronavirus went viral, is out with a COVID policy platform calling on the Biden administration to bring someone onto their COVID task force who has lost someone to the virus and support the creation of an independent commission to investigate the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
The policy platform, first reported by Newsweek, was shared with Biden officials Marcela Nunez-Smith and LaNiesha Dawson in a Zoom meeting before the inauguration. It also calls for Congress to fund a compensation program for victims and survivors of COVID-19, similar to the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund and the Crime Victims Fund, which would cover out-of-pocket medical costs, mental health counseling, funerals, pain and suffering, and loss of earnings, according to the document shared with Newsweek.
“I’m inspired by how Kristin Urquiza has turned her grief into action and I share her determination to memorialize all we’ve lost and honor those who sacrificed on the frontlines,” Representative Joaquin Castro told Newsweek. “The COVID pandemic has been the global crisis of our time, and Americans from all walks of life have stepped up to meet this moment despite too often being left to fend for themselves. Essential workers in particular need to be honored—and when the story of COVID-19 is told their lives must be front and center.”
Urquiza, who spoke of her dad’s life and the impact his loss had on her at the Democratic National Convention in 2020, created her organization Marked By COVID, after her father, who once supported former President Donald Trump, died. She said her dad believed the Trump’s words that the virus was under control and it was OK to end social distancing and instead got sick after a night of karaoke, dying after five “agonizing days.”
“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” Urquiza said in one of the most emotional speeches given at the convention. “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”
That knowledge and pain guides her work and the policy platform she backs. Already she supports one aspect of Biden’s approach: promoting his relief package as a “rescue” plan, she said.
“‘Rescue’ implies the first of more to come, long term,” she told Newsweek. “For the Marked by COVID community it’s essential that a long-term vision includes the people most impacted.”
Other plans Urquiza’s group is pushing for from the Biden administration include a G.I. Bill for frontline health care providers that includes student loan forgiveness and future tuition benefits, as well as a federal COVID Memorial Day to honor those who lost their lives to the virus.
Urquiza did not secure firm commitments during her first meeting but Biden officials told her they want to keep the conversation going. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Newsweek.
The plans proposed by the group have already seen some success, with 50 mayors signing onto a U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution to implement a National COVID Memorial Day during the first week of March. Urquiza said the bipartisan nature of the group underscores the absolute burden local municipalities have had to take on in dealing with fallout, grief and bumpy vaccine rollouts.
One of the first mayors to respond to her ideas with “absolute enthusiasm” was the mayor of Brownsville, Texas, Juan Mendez. She said that was unsurprising because of the way the Hispanic community in Texas, and nationally, has been hard-hit and reinforced her vision that a goal of her group should be to solve for long-term inequities that have disproportionately hurt communities of color during the pandemic.
A through-line of Urquiza’s policy platform is the firmly held belief that part of healing from the darkness of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 450,000 people will be the process of remembering what happened so it never does again, particularly as millions of Americans prepare to see the one-year anniversary of their loss of a loved one arrive starting in March.
It’s one reason she said her community supported the lighting at the Lincoln Memorial that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attended the day before their inauguration.
“We were dealing with this game of gas lighting for a year, of people telling us our loved ones didn’t really die of COVID, and here he was before he had the full office of power, remembering those lost,” Urquiza said, noting that when it was announced she had a wave of people reaching out to ask how they could participate in their local communities.
Marked By COVID took the lighting ceremony further, bringing in an architect in charge of the 9/11 plaza commission to speak with members about remembrance.
“The thing people wanted was engagement, a way to personalize that lighting,” she said. “This type of information is incredibly valuable to ensure that as the Biden administration moves forward, people don’t feel that disconnect with what they’re doing and where people are actually at.”