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TMC event marks nearly 400K U.S. deaths from COVID-19

228 people dead from coronavirus at just one Tucson hospital remembered during bell-ringing

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Doctors and nurses at Tucson Medical Center listen as the hospital's pastor recites a prayer, part of a nationwide effort to mark the nearly 400,000 people who have died from COVID-19 over the past year. - Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

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Each ring of a bell marked the deaths of 10 people at Tucson Medical Center from COVID-19. And yet, it took four minutes for the hospital's chaplain, Rev. Mary Klaehn, to memorialize the 228 people who have died from the disease at Tucson Medical Center—among them, one of the hospital's own. 

Held under gray skies at TMC's Life Gain Park, around 100 people, including doctors, nurses and staff listened as Klaehn recited a prayer thanking those at the hospital who have worked to "create safe spaces to the do the work of healing." 

She also marked the death of Catherine Valenzuela, a member of TMC's staff, who died from COVID-19 on December 31.

The memorial was part of a national effort to mark nearly 400,000 people who have died because of COVID-19 since the first case was reported in the U.S. in late January 2020. Since then, the virus ripped through American life, killing 394,495 people, including 3,557 more deaths Tuesday alone, according to the CDC's COVID-19 tracker. 

This includes 11,266 people in Arizona, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

In recent weeks, Arizona has led not only U.S. states, but also entire countries in the rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Just six days ago, on January 13, Arizona had 134.7 cases per 100,000 people, the worst of any regional in the world. However, North Dakota still maintains the overall record, reporting 184.8 cases per 100,000 people just before the Thanksgiving holiday. 

The U.S. has added 1.5 million cases in just over a week, rising to 23.6 million cases in the U.S. alone, the highest number of cases of any country in the world. The next closest country, India reports about 10.6 million cases, with four times the population. 

In Washington D.C., President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris participated in a memorial at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Along with the local event at TMC, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero rang the bell at the top of Tucson Fire Central in Downtown Tucson. 

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"At a time when so many Americans are grieving the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, it is important that we take a moment both as a nation and as a community to honor those we lost to COVID-19," Romero said. "On Tuesday, January 19th, I invite all Tucsonans to join me as we remember the 400,000 Americans, more than 11,000 Arizonans, and 1,400 Pima County residents who lost their lives to COVID-19 by ringing a bell or lighting a candle." 

Klaehn opened the hospital ceremony with a prayer to "bring to memory those we have lost to COVID-19 in the last  year,"  and "give thanks for the beauty of their lives." 

And, after thanking those who have made "difficult decisions" and walked alongside the grieving, she asked for those assembled to "go forth from here now,  with hope for and a commitment to work together for a better day. Amen." 

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