RICHMOND, Va. -- The Commonwealth reached a grim milestone on a day declared by Governor Ralph Northam as COVID-19 Remembrance Day. The virus has now claimed more than 10,000 lives statewide.
The Virginia flag flew at half-staff Sunday at the State Capitol. It was a somber reminder of the Virginians who died from the coronavirus.
The Governor also called on faith leaders to join him for a day of prayer Sunday. Pastor Ralph Hodge of Second Baptist Church in South Richmond was one of them.
"We pause today to remember their lives," said Hodge during a live-streamed virtual service. "They were grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives."
Hodge offered a comforting message to those who lost a loved one to Coronavirus on the anniversary of the first COVID-19 related death recorded in Virginia.
"Oh, Lord, comfort their hearts. We ask that you speak peace to their souls right now," prayed Hodge. "They weren't just statistics. They weren't just numbers on your screen. They were real. Their lives mattered. Their living wasn't in vain."
He also encouraged families to not only mourn their loved ones but celebrate them by looking back on fond memories.
For one Petersburg woman, memories are all that's left of her niece, Syvie Robertson.
"I remember the last text she sent me," said Shelia Clanton. "She said I love you too."
Syvie was a healthcare worker who died on January 1st this year after Clanton said she contracted Coronavirus on the job.
"She was dedicated to her job, tirelessly working to take care of COVID patients, never really realizing that she would succumb to COVID," said Clanton.
Clanton used the day of remembrance to warn others not to let their guard down until the pandemic passes.
"COVID took a big chunk out of my family," Clanton said. "I'm asking everybody on the day of remembrance, to wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay six feet apart. I know a lot of us don't want to follow rules and guidelines, but until the scientists say we're clear, we need to continue doing what we've been doing."
Most importantly, she honored the life of a nurse, mother, and friend taken too soon.
"You are my hero, and I will always love you," Clanton said speaking about her niece. "I miss calling you Syvie Michelle. Thank you for your sacrifice."
Robertson would have graduated as a registered nurse in April, and her degree will be given to her children.
An amber light will illuminate the State Capitol to pay tribute to those who died from COVID-19 until March 21.