Once the family found out about the entry, several loved ones left comments about the life of their aunt, mother and grandmother, remembering her one-of-a-kind enchiladas and sense of humor. These celebrations of life and sharing of stories are exactly what the virtual wall’s co-creators, Clear Lake residents Ruth and Mohammed Nasrullah, had in mind for the nonprofit website.
“We’re trying with this to tell the story of COVID-19 in the United States,” said Ruth, the nonprofit’s secretary and treasurer.
Mohammed, the president of the nonprofit, said he felt compelled to take action once the country reached the 100,000-death mark in late May, and the site launched Jan. 4. Seeing the rising death totals and case count surges made him think about the stories behind each statistic and want to put names, faces and photos with the numbers, he said.
Inspired by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the online “wall” accepts submissions free of charge from anyone around the country. Entries can include all the information typical of an obituary, along with the grave location, and entries can be searched on the site by name and area of residence.
About 500 entries were present when the site officially launched, but the number of entries quadrupled in about a month, the Nasrullahs said in early February. Volunteers are uploading 80 to 100 new entries a day, they said.
“We really want the opportunity to honor every COVID-19 victim in the country,” Mohammed said.
Aside from the wall, the Daily Count section of the site updates the nationwide running total of coronavirus deaths with information from a The New York Times tracker, and the Just the Facts section is kept up to date with the latest health guidelines.
The site also includes a COVID-19 Observer news section, populated by a group of half a dozen volunteer writers aiming to enhance existing news coverage about the pandemic. Guest writers have included Houston City Council Member Letitia Plummer, who detailed her experience having COVID-19, and former Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who resigned from the post last spring due to health concerns.
“What I’m trying to do is get different angles that you may not read about or may not have thought about,” Ruth said.
They have no plans to stop providing a venue for the memories—not until every single person who has died from COVID-19 has a spot on the wall.
“Whether that’s too lofty a goal or not, that’s our goal,” Ruth said. “Everyone counts.”