The city, which has seen over 1,600 coronavirus-related deaths, joined in a nationwide memorial as the country surpassed 400,000 deaths. The memorial was planned as a component of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' inauguration.
"The COVID-19 numbers can be overwhelming, but they also serve as a barrier keeping deaths in the realm of the abstract, making it easier to ignore the reality, especially if we have not lost a loved one to COVID-19,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “The reality is, this pandemic has been brutal.”
Turner also encouraged residents to light a candle in remembrance of those lost to COVID-19.
Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo gave remarks Jan. 19 accompanied by the singing of the national anthem, a livestreamed musical performance and prayers from local religious leaders.
"No corner has been spared; from Baytown to Katy, everyone has been impacted in some way, shape or form," Hidalgo said. "Those who lost their lives all had stories ... we have the opportunity to finish writing those stories, to build a legacy for those folks who lost their lives. To build a legacy of love and hope, not despair. A legacy of unity."
Rabbi Oren Hayon of the Congregation Emanu El lead a mourning prayer; Rev. Tami Wilson led a prayer of healing; and Shariq Ghani, director of the Minaret Foundation, led a prayer of hope.
"Many of our countrymen have had the boundaries of their faith pushed and pulled and tested over and again during this crisis," Ghani said. "With every difficulty there is ease ... help us appreciate that after sorrow, joy is sweeter. We look forward to better times."
Also recognized at the memorial were the 12 city of Houston employees who died from coronavirus-related complications. Officials rang a bell in remembrance of each employee. The 12 employees are Angel Barnhart of the human resources department; Joel Cirillo, Natarvia Robertson, Jose Rubio and Michael Sanchez of the public works department; officer Ernest Leal Jr., civilian employees Latonya Lewis and Nicole Rodriguez of the police department; Richard Sable of the Houston Airport System; Gerardo “Jerry” Pacheco and Captains Tommy Searcy and Leroy Luico of the fire department; Keith Wade of the mayor’s office; and Edward Zilton of the solid waste department.
The region is facing its second surge of cases since the outbreak began in March 2020, as cases and hospitalizations began to rise after Thanksgiving and continued through the holiday season.