COVID-19 survivors, long haulers and families who have lost loved ones to the virus marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday in solidarity to raise awareness about urgent pandemic needs.
This year marks the second annual COVID March to Remember, a national event of remembrance that is held across dozens of cities, such as New York City, Atlanta, Houston and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The purpose of the walk is to issue a call to action on elected officials to strengthen COVID-19 prevention measures, ensure mental health services are readily available and advance funding for long COVID research and treatment options.
The event is hosted by various organizations, including COVID Survivors for Change, Yellow Heart Memorial, Faces of COVID Victims and others. Those who plan to march are encouraged to wear yellow, the color of COVID loss and survival.
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"Compared to last year, there is definitely a feeling that society has moved on. The scale of loss that people have experienced, the millions that are living with long COVID, the nearly 250,000 children that have been orphaned, lost a parent or primary caretaker -- for them, COVID is very much not over," executive director of COVID Survivors for Change Christopher Kocher told News 4 in an interview.
Long COVID or post-COVID is a condition where patients will recover from the acute infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus but continue to suffer from lingering symptoms, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and fatigue, which happens to be one of the most popular complaints.
While estimates vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected earlier this year that 1 in 5 adults will develop a long-term COVID condition. With more Americans contracting emerging variants, these numbers can continue to place various medical and financial stresses on patients desperately searching for answers.
Maya McNulty, a 49-year-old mother, is a long hauler and COVID survivor making the trip from her hometown in Niskayuna, N.Y. to walk in the Brooklyn march. She emigrated from Guyana, South America to the U.S. in 1979 at the age of six and eventually became a marketing entrepreneur.
McNulty first encountered the coronavirus in March 2020 and was hospitalized for nearly 70 days, including 30 days in an induced coma and placed on a ventilator for six weeks. In September of that year, she was officially diagnosed as a COVID long hauler.
After undergoing two strokes, she still suffers from close to 50 post-COVID symptoms, like brain fog, hair loss, bruising lips, itchy skin, heart palpitations and insomnia.
"Besides a walking warrior, I am 'sick-well.' I am sick, but I am well, and it's a new word I'm coining because that's what long haulers are going through. They are able to walk and function sometimes. Sometimes they aren't able to get out of bed or get any sleep, but they're still well and interacting," McNulty told News 4.
Around three months ago, McNulty finally returned to work after two years of being unemployed due to post-COVID conditions. As an entrepreneur, she used to work 60 to 80 hours per week, and now, she admits to managing four hours weekly as a start.
While this long COVID fighter is self-employed, she remains busy managing several online support outlets, such as the Covid Wellness Clinic Online Care Program and Walking Warrior foundation.
Over 40% of long haul patients reported themselves unable to return to the workforce with just 5% able to go back feeling at their best, according to one survey by the COVID-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project.
To Kocher, the title of "COVID survivor" may not fit everyone's preference but is a term that resonates with many he speaks with who still are coping with loss and navigating unknowns.
The march registration is available online and flexible to join until the day of. Masks are required to participate, and collectively, those who walk will take one million steps in honor of those who died from coronavirus.
In New York City, residents are expected to gather at 11:00 a.m. at the North Lawn in Cadman Plaza Park in downtown Brooklyn.
According to COVID Survivors for Change, around 500 people are anticipated to join as the group walks over the bridge to cross into Manhattan for a speaking program at City Hall Park. NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan along with leaders from COVID support organizations are expected to attend.