Thursday, June 20, 2024

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui lays flowers at a Covid memorial Thursday at a ceremony in Cambidge Cemetery. (Photo: Sue Reinert)

The end of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency was marked Thursday by officials with recollections and thanks in a ceremony at a memorial site in Cambridge Cemetery. The location, established in October 2021 with a bench, engraved stone, shrubs and flowers, was intended to be a place where people could remember those who died from the virus.

The date the city dedicated the Cambridge Covid-19 Remembrance Memorial – Oct. 28, 2021 – the city’s health department had reported a total of 7,753 infections among Cambridge residents, and 125 residents had died.

On Thursday, the last day the city will post daily case and death counts, there had been 35,730 infections and 188 deaths.

At the 20-minute ceremony, Cambridge mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, City Manager Yi-An Huang and chief public health officer Derrick Neal were introduced by Peace Commission executive director Brian Corr and spoke briefly about their memories and their pride and gratitude for the city’s response to an overwhelming public health emergency.

The Covid ceremony was small and attended mainly by Cambridge officials such as chief public health officer Derrick Neal. (Photo: Sue Reinert)

Siddiqui recalled that “when the pandemic hit,” she and other city leaders were working day and night to respond and essentially “living at City Hall” – then “suddenly realized we shouldn’t be together” because of the danger of transmission. Huang, who was not yet city manager, remembered the early days, before scientists knew how Covid spread, when people were “wiping down their groceries.” Infectious disease specialists at Boston Medical Center, where he was working, “were telling us we shouldn’t put masks in paper bags because it would spread Covid if you touched it the wrong way,” he said.

“We were living in such a time of fear,” Huang said. “I remember the patients we lost and the families who had to grieve alone and separated from the normal rhythms of saying goodbye.”

Neal said: “With each death, public health grieved with each family.”

All three listed a multitude of city employees and agencies to praise and thank: the fire and police departments, the school department, Pro-EMS paramedics, the Cambridge Public Health Department, the Public Works and Inspectional Services departments, the Cambridge Housing Authority and more.

As for the future, Siddiqui said that “if something like this happens again, we will be much more prepared.” Neal said he felt “a great sense of relief that the worst of Covid-19 is likely behind us, but it’s not over completely – so I do want to remind people to stay cautious, particularly around the vulnerable people in your life.” Huang said it was a moment to “move forward while not forgetting.”

About 15 people listened to the speakers, mostly from the police, fire and health departments; public works commissioner Owen O’Riordan also attended. No city councillors except the mayor were there. The three speakers laid flowers at the base of the memorial stone after all three finished their remarks. Some in the audience also left a flower.

“We will never forget those who are no longer with us and we have this space for remembering them,” Siddiqui said.