Westchester Pauses to Remember Victims of Pandemic a Year Later

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Westchester County Executive COVID-19
County Executive George Latimer leads a remembrance ceremony Wednesday in White Plains as student and faculty musicians from White Plains High School look on

Westchester County paused on Wednesday to remember the more than 2,000 lives lost in the county from COVID-19 and the struggles the county and nation and have faced against the pandemic.

Yesterday marked a year to the day that New Rochelle became the state’s first hotspot and the focus of an increasingly nervous country when about 100 cases of the coronavirus were linked to a gathering at Temple Young Israel a week or two earlier.

Since then, 2,105 Westchester residents have died from the virus as of Tuesday, along with more than half a million other Americans.

County Executive George Latimer, who led an hour-long program in the county office building’s lobby late Wednesday morning, said a year of losing friends, family and neighbors has been made worse by being unable to celebrate milestones and holidays together as a community.

“We’re here on a day of commemoration to remember those we have lost and to learn from the experiences we have lived through for the last year,” Latimer said.  “This pandemic is not yet over and we have more days ahead of us. It’s a proper time to stop and consider the path we’ve taken so far and to find new resolve for the path that’s ahead of us as well.”

Clergy from three different faiths, Father Luke Hoyt from Holy Innocents parish in Pleasantville, Rabbi Annie Tucker of Temple Israel Center in White Plains and Imam Shaffieq Chace from the Westchester Muslim Center led interfaith prayers. Westchester’s poet laureate, J.K. Fisher, and Youth Poet Laureate Danielle Kohn read appropriate passages from their own work or those of other poets.

Hoyt recalled a funeral he presided over late last March for a man who had died of COVID-19. The only two people allowed at the graveside service were himself and the funeral director, who was livestreaming the service so the man’s loved ones could watch on computers.

There were similar stories from thousands of others, but Hoyt said that while there was the heartbreak of his family and friends unable to say goodbye, he trusted in his God.

“Even in the direst of circumstances that we’ve experienced, even in the direst of circumstances that we may yet experience, we may never be alone,” he said.

Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins said last Mar. 3 he knew something was wrong when he received a phone call from Latimer before 8 a.m. That was when he learned of the New Rochelle outbreak.

Jenkins lauded the first responders, health care workers, health officials and essential workers who rushed people to the hospital, cared for the sick and stocked the shelves in food stores. But he asked everyone to keep those who have died in their thoughts.

“We want to remember every soul, every one of the over 2,000 members of our Westchester community, more than a half a million across the country, that these people and individuals, friends and family members, brothers, sisters, mothers, sons, daughters, fathers, friends, forever,” said Jenkins. “We want to make sure we recall each and every one of them.”

Ben Boykin, chair of the Board of Legislators, said the pandemic has tested everyone’s capacity to come together as a nation, a county and a community. It is a challenge that Westchester has met.

“From somebody helping an elderly neighbor with grocery shopping to volunteers helping to land vaccine appointments to those who are less tech savvy, they have been there helping our neighbors,” Boykin said.

The program concluded with a moment of silence at noon. Latimer called on all residents to go to their front doors at 7 p.m. last night for a county-wide applause for health care workers who have risked their health and safety to care for others.

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