But despite all their precautions, Walter and his father, John, both contracted the novel coronavirus, and after a 19-day battle in the hospital, John Walter died May 10.
On Sunday, Walter was one of nearly two dozen people directly affected by the novel coronavirus to mourn the more than 200,000 American who have been killed by the disease and push for a national plan for recovery.
They gathered on the grassy Ellipse just south of the White House and in proximity to the Rose Garden, where those attending President Trump’s announcement of his Supreme Court nominee flouted recommendations on wearing masks and social distancing. Trump and at least seven other people who attended the Sept. 26 ceremony have since tested positive for the coronavirus, and health officials fear even more cases could result from the event.
“It’s very important we get the message across that this is not a hoax or a conspiracy or a fake illness,” Walter said. “Just because it hasn’t affected you personally doesn’t mean it’s not real. The events of last weekend prove that you can be isolated for a while, but if you make one wrong move, the virus could get you.”
Walter looked at 20,000 empty black chairs that had been placed on the Ellipse over the weekend, each representing 10 people in the United States who have died of covid-19. The U.S. coronavirus death toll soared past 200,000 last month, and Covid Survivors for Change, a network aimed at helping those affected by the virus locate support groups and other resources, declared Sunday a national day of remembrance.
The group recruited local volunteers to set up the installation. They began removing the chairs after the event Sunday.
Those who spoke reflected the myriad ways the pandemic has shaken people’s lives: a Virginia teacher who worried for the health of her students. A Black entrepreneur who is struggling to get by. An emergency room nurse who was hospitalized with the virus and lost her brother to covid-19 weeks later.
While each speaker’s story was different, their message was the same: The pandemic is far from over, and a national strategy with cohesive leadership is the only way to prevent another 200,000 deaths.
“When I watched that Rose Garden event I was horrified. I saw children and adults and elderly people all unmasked and not socially distanced, against all recommendations we have,” said Dara Kass, an emergency medicine physician and associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.
“When I think of the 200,000 who have died, and all the people who will be infected because of how his administration behaved, it continues to disappoint me not only as a doctor, but as an American,” she said.
Kass, who spoke Sunday, said she was especially concerned about those who went to the Rose Garden ceremony and didn’t immediately self-quarantine, even after it became apparent someone in attendance was infected. Attorney General William P. Barr decided not to self-quarantine even though he was exposed