AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 400 candles are shining brightly outside of the Long Center for Performing Arts on West Riverside Drive. Austin Public Health and students of Dell Medical School set up the display Thursday night to remember the lives taken by COVID-19.
The display is lit with 450 candles in remembrance of each life lost in Austin and Travis County. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 31,000 confirmed cases have been reported in the county.
Each candle symbolizes the loss and grief experienced by mothers, fathers, healthcare workers and an entire community. It’s a pain Jen Samp knows all too well.
“My sister has COVID, my brother-in-law has COVID. They are in west Texas. My dad in west Texas is a respiratory therapist at a long-term care living center, and they have a cluster there. My godmother died this morning with COVID, the godmother who babysat me, so it’s very real,” said Samp.
Samp is the communications manager for Austin Public Health. She knows firsthand the impact the virus can have on anyone, regardless of their age, sex or ethnicity. For her, Thursday night’s vigil was personal.
“We know that you are hurting, we know we are asking for a lot; we have so many people effected by this,” Samp said.
She along with medical staff across Central Texas are asking people to continue wearing their masks and social distance.
The candles will be on display from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday at the Long Center for Performing Arts on West Riverside Drive.
Earlier on Thursday, five Travis County health leaders discussed how the pandemic is affecting local hospitals and resources.
They said while hospitals are safe and ready to expand as needed, it’s still important to limit gatherings of more than 10 people as the holiday season gets underway.
“Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen cases and hospitalizations rise from where they were just a few weeks ago, and that’s concerning since we are entering coronavirus season,” said Dr. Brian Metzger, Medical Director of Infectious Diseases at St. David’s Medical Center.
But ahead of the holidays and a likely increase in infections, there’s still hope.
“Our physicians, our nurses are more aware and have experience of how to take care of patients. There are treatments that we have right now that we didn’t have at that time [earlier in the year],” said Dr. Ghassan Salman, Baylor Scott & White Associate Regional Chief Medical Officer.