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Westchester Holds Commemoration A Year After First Confirmed COVID Case

Imam Shaffieq Chace speaks during Westchester County COVID-19 Commemoration, March 3, 2021
Courtesy of the Office of Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Imam Shaffieq Chace speaks during Westchester County COVID-19 Commemoration, March 3, 2021

Westchester County Executive George Latimer hosted a COVID-19 commemoration Wednesday, marking one year since the county’s first confirmed case. New Rochelle became the epicenter of the virus in New York early in the pandemic.

Westchester Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins recalled March 3, 2020.

“The county executive, George, called at 10 minutes to 8 on the 3rd, and it’s, it was unusual because we do a lot of texting because that’s the world we live in, but for him to call that early in the morning, I thought something must be wrong, and the county executive said that we had our first case here in Westchester County,” Jenkins says. “Five minutes after 8, the mayor of New Rochelle Noam Bramson called and was validating that information, and then we’ve been all working through this particular scenario together.”

Since, more than 2,100 county residents have died from COVID-19. Imam Shaffieq Chace from the Westchester Muslim Center shared a message of servitude. And he shared a personal story from May, about a request to read verses from the Quran for a woman dying from COVID at White Plains Hospital.

“So the nurse held her FaceTime phone to the deceased on the ventilator, and I’m in my office reciting portions of the Quran, and I begin to recite, and I recite, and when I finished, they disconnected the ventilator from that young lady, just about 50,” Imam Chace says. “A month after, I was invited to a dinner in Yonkers, and I’m sitting there and we were having a discussion about how people are succumbing to this virus. And I was relating my experience that a family requested that an Imam recite the Quran for that dying person. Sitting at the table was the husband of that woman who have [sic] passed, not knowing that I was the Imam who recited the verses for his wife.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer:

“We’re here today to try to understand not about a government but about humanity, and why we do these things? Because we want to save another life and that we all try out best to save another life, and that we remember the lives that we have lost,” Latimer says.

He held up a mask in reference to “these things.” The speakers stood alongside a Ribbons of Remembrance memorial that was brought indoors for the winter from the Lenoir Nature Preserve in Yonkers. People take purple ribbons and write the names of those lost to COVID. The ribbons are then tied to a tree and rope structure. People may still visit and add names, and the memorial will return to the preserve in the spring. Danielle Kohn is the county Youth Poet Laureate.

She first read the poem “In the Vault of Morning,” by Canisia Lubrin. Lubrin wrote that “This poem is one articulation of the conditions and priorities of a human landscape in which a largely disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths have been our elderly. Not incidentally, condition can also be synonymous with virus; and priority can also be synonymous with preference.” Kohn then recited her own poem.

“The next poem that I’m going to read is a poem that I actually wrote a while ago, when I was 12. And I wrote it reflecting on the loss of my grandfather, and I also read it at his funeral. It’s called ‘Don’t Let the Sun Set,’” Kohn says.

‘Don’t Let the Sun Set

Don’t Let the sun set without letting the colors sink into your soul

without knowing that you have become richer because of it

Don’t let the sun set without letting go…’” Kohn read.

Westchester County Poet Laureate B.K. Fischer read W.H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” and then her own work, a compilation of tributes from those who lost loved ones to COVID. Here’s a small part:

“She was a quick-witted mother of 11 and a fashionista. He was a patient transporter at the local hospital. They were a storyteller. They loved roller coasters. She was a rough, tough cream puff and a leader behind the scenes. He was a college student who planned to be a pediatrician. She fought COVID for 167 days. He was a taxi driver for 39 years,” Fischer read. “Vivian, Rona, Mary, Ramesh, Vicky, Larry, Amena, Dan.”

Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin:

“Our flags fly half-staff in honor of those that we’ve lost to COVID-19,” says Boykin. “One of our legislators lost his sister at 60 years old, a week ago.”

Latimer led a countywide applause for healthcare workers in the evening. A string quartet from White Plains High School performed before and after a noontime moment of silence.

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