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‘Too many empty seats at our kitchen tables’: Salt Lake City joins national day of mourning for COVID-19 victims

Deseret News logo Deseret News 3/2/2021 Kyle Dunphey
a person talking on a cell phone: Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall place lanterns in a tribute to the city’s victims and survivors of COVID-19 outside of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021. © Kristin Murphy, Deseret News Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall place lanterns in a tribute to the city’s victims and survivors of COVID-19 outside of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021.

SALT LAKE CITY — 146.

That’s the number of paper lanterns that lit up the grounds of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday night, a memorial to the 146 residents of Utah’s capitol city that have died from COVID-19. In total, 1,940 Utahns have died from the virus.

The event was one of hundreds taking place across the country as local politicians and community activists look to establish March 1 as a day of mourning for the roughly 500,000 American victims of the pandemic.

From Bangor, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, and hundreds of communities in between, city leaders took Monday to give a speech, issue an official declaration or place memorials.

One group, Rose River Memorial, is collecting a handmade felt rose for every American COVID-19 death, while another, the Floral Heart Project, is spearheading an effort to lay more than 100 floral hearts in cities across the U.S.

In Salt Lake City, the 146 lanterns lined the gardens outside of the City-County Building, providing the backdrop for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall as she addressed reporters on a chilly Monday evening.

“Tonight we’re gathering as a capitol city but also as a nation to remember the victims and the survivors of the COVID-19 pandemic in Salt Lake City,” Mendenhall said. “We remember the 146 residents who have died, and the hundreds of thousands who have died nationwide, and the millions lost around the world.”

a woman standing in front of a building: Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks during a ceremony to honor the city’s victims and survivors of COVID-19 outside of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021. © Kristin Murphy, Deseret News Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks during a ceremony to honor the city’s victims and survivors of COVID-19 outside of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021.

The vigil comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases in Utah is well below where it was just weeks ago. On Monday, the state reported 257 new cases and five new deaths — nearly one month earlier, on Feb. 2, 1,201 Utahns tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 died.

Monday’s five deaths brings Utah’s overall total to to 1,940.

While the trend is a hopeful sign that the Beehive State is rounding the corner in a tumultuous and tragic year, Mendenhall urged Utahns to stay vigilant.

“Although we’re hopeful with the vaccine rollout and the increased pace of vaccinations, we’re ever anxious to reconnect with our families and our communities, and that is always a challenge to communicate that we’re not our of the woods yet,” she told the Deseret News.

“Although we’re getting close.”

Speaking from the podium, Mendenhall expressed grief for the thousands of families that have “experienced tremendous loss,” including those of two Salt Lake City employees.

“There are too many empty seats at our kitchen tables, there’s too many phone numbers that now go unanswered,” she said. “Although it feels perhaps a bit premature to hold this memorial amid an ongoing pandemic, it’s imperative that we acknowledge how much has been in the works, and recognize how much we’ve changed as a city and a nation.”

Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano, who himself had COVID-19 in early March of last year after a trip to Washington D.C., took to the podium after Mendenhall to echo her message, while noting the public is still split over how to respond to the pandemic, if at all.

“In other times of epic national loss, such as in wars, or 9/11, or the crisis that is AIDS, we as a country have eventually pulled together and confronted the crisis and consoled survivors. But at this time, the nation is deeply divided on some fronts,” he said. “I am saddened by that barrier, but we can change. This day can be a reminder of the resilient nature of humanity.”

In February, the Salt Lake City Council adopted a joint ceremonial resolution with Mendenhall declaring March 1 COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano speaks during a ceremony to honor the city’s victims and survivors of COVID-19 outside of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021. © Kristin Murphy, Deseret News Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano speaks during a ceremony to honor the city’s victims and survivors of COVID-19 outside of the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021.
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