Inspired by her mother, wife Goshen pushes for national COVID-19 memorial day

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GOSHEN – Jennifer Ritz Sullivan’s mother Earla Dawn Dimitriadis is one of more than 600,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the United States, and Ritz Sullivan is working hard as part of a national movement to s ‘ensure that the impact of the deadly pandemic is not forgotten.

“In order to heal collectively, we need recognition,” said Ritz Sullivan.

Ritz Sullivan is the COVID Justice Officer for Marked By COVID in Massachusetts. Marked by COVID is a national group founded during the pandemic by those affected by the disease to ensure the needs of those affected are heard and met. All of its members, including Ritz Sullivan, are volunteers.

“We are essential workers, we are people who have had COVID for a long time, we are people who have lost loved ones,” said Ritz Sullivan. “We know what went wrong, so let us in.”

A key piece of national legislation that Marked By COVID is pushing for is Resolution H. Res. 174, a resolution that expresses support for the creation of a National Day of Commemoration of COVID-19 Victims and Survivors on the first Monday of every March. COVID-19 restrictions were widely adopted in March 2020.

“If we can’t deal with it, we can’t prevent it from happening again,” said Ritz Sullivan.

The resolution was co-sponsored by seven of nine congressional representatives from Massachusetts, including U.S. representatives Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and Richard Neal, D-Springfield. Sullivan met with McGovern and Neal as part of lobbying efforts for the bill.

“He validated us on so many issues,” Ritz Sullivan said of McGovern. “He acknowledged the criminal management of the pandemic. “

She also expressed her appreciation for Neal’s support for the bill.

“His sincerity certainly resonated,” Neal said of his meeting with Ritz Sullivan. “I think there is great merit in the proposal that she was really one of the driving forces behind.”

Ritz Sullivan and the group have also been in contact with the offices of Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Senator Ed Markey, D-MA. She said both offices were well received and that Warren’s office had indicated that she would present a resolution to the Senate once the House resolution is passed. However, Sullivan also said they also plan to meet with the senators themselves.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have also expressed support for the effort.

Ritz Sullivan will join other Marked By COVID activists in July in Washington, DC as they push for passage of the resolution as well as the needs of those affected by COVID-19. Ritz Sullivan and her husband will be lobbyists for Massachusetts.

Ritz Sullivan said that while the legislation will not bring back any loved one, “it makes sure that history cannot just be put under a rug.”

Currently, 49 members of the United States House have sponsored H. Res. 174. And although they are all Democrats, Ritz Sullivan said the COVID-19 issue was non-partisan.

“It’s a bipartisan issue whether or not people choose to believe it,” she said. “It should never have been politicized.”

She also noted that she knew some extremely liberal and extremely conservative people who contracted COVID and died, as well as those who fall in between.

Another priority that Marked By COVID is pushing for is the creation of a COVID-19 commission to look at what went wrong with the pandemic response and document what happened to history.

Activism is nothing new to Sullivan, and she grew up seeing her father Robert Ritz, a Vietnam veteran, lobby for veterans rights.

“Hearing my dad say he’s proud of me is awesome,” said Ritz Sullivan. “Hearing my sister tell me that my mom would be proud of me is great. “

Ritz Sullivan’s father also contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, although he managed to survive his encounter with the disease.

Commemorative event

Ritz Sullivan is also helping organize a COVID-19 memorial event at the Three Sisters Shrine, which will take place on September 12. Richard Richardson, who founded the shrine, donated the space for the event.

“I built the sorrow-centered shrine,” said Richardson. “It was a good fit for the sanctuary.”

He also said he believed the event would be good for the community.

Richardson started the shrine in response to his brother’s death from cancer and named it after one of his daughters who died of an aneurysm.

At the event, the names of those in Massachusetts who died from COVID-19, as well as relatives of Massachusetts residents who died from COVID-19, who were submitted will be read aloud.

Monte Belmonte agreed to host the event and lawmakers including McGovern, Neal, Warren, Markey and State Representative Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland were invited to speak. There will be music provided by musicians.

Participants will be encouraged to leave items that remind them of loved ones they have lost to COVID-19 in the field and to share their stories.

Those wishing to attend the memorial or submit names and information about lost loved ones can email Ritz Sullivan at MarkedByCovidMA@gmail.com.

Ritz Sullivan’s mother died of COVID-19 in December 2020.

“It’s the only way I can think of to deal with the amount of anger I have,” Ritz Sullivan said of his activist work.

Ritz Sullivan also said she feels her mother’s presence when doing her COVID-19 job.

“I wear it in every meeting,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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