After her father died from COVID-19, 39-year-old Kristin Urquiza used his obituary to call on state and federal government for a better response to the global pandemic. The message quickly went viral.
Urquiza told TODAY that her father, Arizona resident Mark Urquiza, was just 65 with no known pre-existing conditions when he contracted the virus; her mother also fell ill, but has not been experiencing severe symptoms. Mark passed away on June 30, three weeks after initially contracting the virus.
Urquiza said that she channeled her "rage and sorrow" into her father's obituary, which was published on July 8.
"Mark, like so many others, should not have died from COVID-19," reads the obituary's third paragraph. "His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk."
"I feel as if my father was robbed, that his death was preventable and that if I didn’t speak up, who would?" Urquiza told TODAY. "It wasn’t even a question that I would write an honest obituary about my dad, because he deserved better and his life mattered."
On Aug. 17, Urquiza appeared by video at the Democratic National Convention. She repeated her concerns about the country's leadership.
"My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump," she said, forcefully. "And for that, he paid with his life."
Urquiza and her partner, Christine Keeves, are developing an "awareness campaign" called Marked by COVID. Their goal is to help "fewer families ... endure this," according to the obituary. Even though her father only passed away a few days ago, Urquiza said that the campaign is already gaining traction, spurred on by social media attention and appearances on NBC News NOW and CNN.
"I didn't set out to do this," Urquiza said. "I think it's important that when our leaders fail us, we turn to awareness and advocating … This, to me, just made sense (as a way) to process and to help others."
She said that she was taking inspiration from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which serves as a "reminder of the names and faces behind the statistics" of that pandemic.
"The idea of Marked by COVID — which, Mark was my dad's name, so it's a nod to him — is a space where people can come forward and share their stories," Urquiza said. "There’s millions of people across the country who have been affected, and the numbers of lives lost are rising. I’m afraid we’re going to get too caught up in these numbers and lose the human aspect."
In another letter, this one written to Arizona governor Doug Ducey, who earlier in the pandemic did not permit local governments to issue their own restrictions regarding the coronavirus, Urquiza invited him to her father's funeral.
"He was one of the 88 Arizonians who died on June 30, 2020 from COVID-19," Urquiza wrote. "Despite having a huge family and many friends he died alone, with an ICU nurse holding his hand."
"I penned that letter because I wanted to make a direct contact with the person that I find responsible for not only the preventable death of my father but preventable deaths that have happened before and since then," Urquiza told TODAY, adding that she had not received a response from the governor or his office. "(Governor Ducey) was late to close, he was early to open, and as late as early June was downplaying the severity of the pandemic and encouraging people to go out, go shopping, go to a restaurant, and that's the same time my dad caught COVID-19."
Urquiza said that she believes the viral response to her obituary and campaign speaks to the national mood surrounding the pandemic as cases of the virus begin to surge again.
"I think it communicates that there is a hunger for us to take this pandemic more seriously," she said. "People are fed up. I've gotten an overwhelming amount of support through social media channels. One of my favorite things is people on social media telling their children if they should die from COVID-19, that their obituaries be just as powerful as (my father's)."
"It's been a much larger response than I set out to necessarily make, but I’m also not surprised," she continued. "(Politicians) have been downplaying the virus. They’ve been sending mixed messages, and I think Americans are fed up with terrible leadership. They want our leaders to prioritize public health, to prioritize making sure that our families are not sick. They want changes to happen. I'm inspired by that, and it really is oxygen to fuel my resolve to make a difference."
UPDATE (Aug. 17, 2020): This story has been updated to reflect Urquiza's appearance at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.