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A view of the Salt Lake City-County Building from the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, File

Salt Lake City designates March 1 as 'COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day'

By Carter Williams, | Posted - Feb. 17, 2021 at 2:08 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been nearly one year now since the COVID-19 pandemic officially arrived in Utah and turned it upside down much like the rest of the world.

The coronavirus has since been blamed as the leading cause of death for 1,797 Utahns — 717 of those deaths were Salt Lake County residents, according to Utah Department of Health data pulled Tuesday night. The city lists that at least 137 residents accounted for the county total.

More than 135,000 residents in the county contracted it over the past year and it led to over 6,300 hospitalizations so far, as well. University of Utah Health doctors said it became the state's third-leading cause of death in 2020 behind heart disease and cancer.

As the anniversary nears, members of the Salt Lake City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that makes the first Monday in March "COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day." It means the city's first day of remembrance will be held in a couple of weeks, on March 1.

Utah's COVID-19 story began in March 2020. Then-Gov. Gary Herbert issued a state of emergency for the coronavirus on March 6, and the state's first case was confirmed hours later.

Five days after Utah's first case, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of a game in Oklahoma City. While the positive test sent shockwaves through the sports world, it also reverberated throughout the Beehive State. Within a week of that positive test, many businesses across the state were closed and schools had shifted to virtual learning models.

First United Methodist members Aaron Goll and Becky Buxton places flags in near the church in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, to honor those who have died from COVID-19 in Utah.
First United Methodist members Aaron Goll and Becky Buxton places flags in near the church in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, to honor those who have died from COVID-19 in Utah. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, File)

Even as the number of new COVID-19 cases slowly subsides and the number of Utahns vaccinated steadily increases, the impacts of the coronavirus are clearly still visible in every day life. Case in point, the Salt Lake City Council met to approve the resolution via video conference because city meetings are still not held in person.

Salt Lake City Councilmember Dan Dugan read the language of the resolution during Tuesday's city council meeting. The resolution acknowledges the total impact of the coronavirus on the community — from "catastrophic effects on human life, our community and our economy."

Beyond the number of people who died or suffered long-term effects from the coronavirus, the resolution recognized the challenges it had on teachers and students as they switched to virtual "distance learning." The Salt Lake City School District only started resuming some in-person learning a few weeks ago.

It also recognizes the role essential workers played sacrificing their own health and safety to "provide critical services to help and protect our communities and save lives."

The resolution also didn't shy away from acknowledging how COVID-19 adversely affected minority communities and people with lower incomes.

"COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color, exacerbating inequities already prevalent in our systems that we must address as a nation," the resolution states.

City Councilmember Amy Fowler said the motion was brought to the council by Smart City Policy Group. She added that Utah's capital city now joins over 60 others in the country that acknowledges the first Monday in March as a day of remembrance of COVID-19. Other cities that have passed similar measures include Nashville, Tennessee and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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