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Kentucky honors those lost to COVID-19 with new memorial

Tears flowed as Jan Peterson gazed at the new Kentucky COVID Memorial on Wednesday, recalling a lifetime of memories with her husband, who died from the virus in the fall of 2021.

Wanting to honor her husband and other Kentuckians who died from COVID-19, 72-year-old Peterson attended the dedication ceremony for the memorial on the grounds of Kentucky’s Capitol.

“Looking back, it’s hard to believe it ever really happened,” she said in an interview. “All the changes that have occurred since then. All I know is I miss him a lot and I know that other people feel the same pain.”

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“While we managed to get through so much adversity, pain and loss, this scale is something that we’re going to be living with and processing for years to come,” the governor said.

KY COVID Memorial

A new Kentucky COVID Memorial was dedicated during a ceremony on May 24, 2023, outside the state Capitol in Frankfort. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

“That’s why we made the decision to build this memorial,” he said. “Because I wanted everyone who has lost someone to this virus to know that their loved one is important and they are missed. And that we in Kentucky will not bow to politics. We will recognize the loss that we have been through.”

Asked afterward what he meant by his “not bow to politics” remark, the Democratic governor replied: “Just because talking about something is difficult doesn’t mean that you don’t do the right thing. This was the battle of our lifetime. It was very serious, and we should not diminish it.” Beshear is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign this year in Republican-leaning Kentucky.

The memorial fund was supported by numerous donations, including from health care systems, the governor’s office said. No tax dollars were used, it said.

Beshear was only months into his term as governor when he was thrust into leading the state’s response to the global pandemic. The governor has said that early projections indicated the death toll from COVID-19 could soar to 80,000 or more in Kentucky. He became a fixture on statewide TV throughout the pandemic, with press conferences that were part pep talk and part sermon on how to limit the spread of the virus. He would read the age, gender and home county of the people who died.

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Before the ceremony, Peterson was asked what she thought of the memorial. She replied: “It’s beautiful. Emotional. I appreciate the state of Kentucky for recognizing what happened here and what’s happened all over the world. And I appreciate Gov. Beshear a lot.”

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