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A public memorial will be held today for the roughly 5,100 Orange County residents killed by COVID-19.
The memorial service is being hosted by County Supervisor Katrina Foley, marking the first time any county official memorializes residents killed by the virus.
While some cities, like Irvine, have memorialized their Covid dead, Friday’s 7:30 p.m. memorial at the lake behind the Avenue of the Arts Hotel in Costa Mesa is the first time a public vigil will be hosted by the county government for OC’s Covid dead.
Foley, who just got elected to the Board of Supervisors in March, said she hopes next week’s statewide reopening doesn’t dim the memory of the dead.
“We hope you’ll join us just to take a moment for those who lost their loved ones during this terrible year and bring a picture (of the dead) or a flower. Drop it off — it’ll be here over the weekend. And we hope that as we move into the reopening of the state next week that all goes well … but not forget about those we lost here in Orange County,” Foley said during Tuesday’s public county supervisors meeting.
No other Supervisors mentioned the memorial during Tuesday’s meeting.
The City of Irvine’s website memorializes their COVID dead and helps connect families to federal resources like funeral cost reimbursement.
Last year, community organizations like Latino Health Access took it upon themselves to honor the COVID dead by driving a float throughout Anaheim and Santa Ana — the hardest hit cities — during last year’s Dia de los Muertos.
Foley said she invited all Supervisors and city council members throughout the county.
“We have invited all electeds in Orange County We’ve invited the community,” Foley said in a Thursday phone interview. “We will have nurses, doctors from Hoag, a couple of faith-based leaders.”
She also said the memorial will pay respects to many of the frontline workers during the pandemic who didn’t have the option of working from home.
“Memorials are hard,” Foley said. “It’s hard to address loss, but we have to do it.”
Only one county supervisor responded to questions about their opinion regarding the timing of the county memorial or the fact that the Friday event is only hosted by one county supervisor, Foley.
In a Thursday text message, Supervisor Doug Chaffee said he’s out of town and thinks “any memorial is premature and should be countywide (or maybe statewide).”
The memorial in Costa Mesa also comes about seven months after the county’s last weekly COVID update that used to be held during a live-streamed public news conference.
County public health officials and some supervisors used to update residents and the press corps weekly on what the virus trends were and sudden pandemic developments, like public health mandates or vaccines.
Those abruptly stopped after the November 2020 election, even though by December hospitals were rapidly filling up and deaths were mounting.
The Winter wave was the deadliest point of the pandemic for OC.
Nearly 1,000 people were killed by COVID in December and over 1,500 died in January, according to data from the county Health Care Agency.
So many people were dying during the Winter, some families saw delays for months in burying their loved ones as funeral homes were filling up.
The virus has now killed 5,092 people — more than nine times the flu kills on a yearly average.
COVID deaths last year surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC.
The virus also killed more residents than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest state health data.
According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio