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OU Health commemorates first Oklahoman COVID-19 death, over 7,000 deaths since in virtual ceremony

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Luminaires were lit as part of the ceremony to commemorate Oklahomans lost to COVID-19 over the past year.

OU Health hosted a virtual ceremony of remembrance on the anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in Oklahoma on Thursday night.

According to an OU Health press release, March 18, 2020 is when the first Oklahoman died of COVID-19. OU Health hosted the ceremony to acknowledge the death as well as other lives lost to the virus since.

OU Health President and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Spicer began the ceremony citing the more than 7,000 COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma in a year also spent grappling with racial inequality.

“Let it be a reminder that we survived not one pandemic, but pandemics to become one human race together where all lives are valued,” Spicer said. “Black Lives Matter, and the Asian American lives that have been impacted. We’ve been marked by darkness.”

Assistant Professor of Medicine at the OU School of Community Medicine Dr. Jabraan Pasha said COVID-19 started as a “problem somewhere else,” progressed into “a little more than an inconvenience,” then it became an “uncertainty.”

“We worried about our health. We worried about the health of our family (and) the health of our friends,” Pasha said. “We worried about keeping our jobs, keeping our lights on (and) keeping food on the table. I think about the surreal feeling in the hospital hallway best — described as a deafening silence as we waited.”

Infectious disease expert at the OU Children’s Hospital Dr. Donna Tyungu reflected on the beginning of the pandemic, recalling the initial outbreak in China. She said she worried about her family and colleagues, adding “but we thank God that this pandemic spared the majority of our children.”

“We understand that we are not out of the woods yet,” Tyungu said. “As we stand here, some states are seeing cases rise, but as we move forward, with cautious optimism, we won't forget the thousands of Oklahomans we have lost. We hope to honor their memories by lives well lived, learning from the mistakes of our distant and recent past.”

OU College of Medicine assistant professor of medicine Dr. Tony Abdo said COVID-19 did not discriminate. He said the pandemic has been an “emotional rollercoaster.”

“This pandemic has been humbling,” Abdo said. “It made us appreciate the little things that we took for granted. It also brought the best and worst in each person, but let’s try to look for the good in others. Let’s remember the act of kindness, selflessness and courage that we witness during this pandemic.”

The ceremony concluded with about 7,000 luminaires in front of the hospital’s new patient tower and water feature representing the Oklahomans who have died due to COVID-19.

“I know this evening, when I look at the lights, I see hope and I see promise,” OU Health Sciences Vice Provost Jill Raines said. “I see hope that the things we're doing — the masking, the social distancing,the vaccinating — hope that (it) will continue to make a difference for us. I also see promise — a promise to the individuals represented by each of these luminaries and their families and friends that we will not forget.”

Alexia Aston joined The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter. Alexia is a journalism major from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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