Vigil held in Oakland for nurses who died from COVID-19

Nurses who've risked their lives and have fallen to COVID-19 were honored Wednesday across the country.           

Here in the Bay Area, nurses came together for a parking-lot vigil at the Oakland Coliseum.

Nurses say the fight against the novel coronavirus is not over and that their colleagues' and friends' deaths were preventable.

"Tonight we mourn. Tomorrow, we fight harder than ever," Zenei Cortez, president of labor unions - California Nurses Association and Nurses for Natural Health, addressed the nurses who attended the vigil in their vehicles. 

Union leaders say more than 400 nurses have died nationwide from the coronavirus.

"They are me and I am them. And I think about them," says Tammie Sims-Russell, an ICU nurse.  

She says there is still fear going to work, in part because of COVID variants.

The names of fallen nurses were read aloud during this somber ceremony which is among nine nationwide held on this day of remembrance.

For me, these are like sisters and brothers who have fallen to COVID," says Maria Cortez, a public health nurse in Monterey County.  

"They did not sign up to sacrifice their lives," one speaker said at a vigil held in Washington D.C.

With the White House as the backdrop, nurses placed one pair of shoes for every RN who died during the pandemic.  

"I'm still scared that I might get the virus." Cortez says she's lost five friends who were nurses and a colleague Janine Paiste-Ponder to COVID-19, all were Filipino Americans.  

She says nurses of color are dying at a higher rate than their white counterparts. "We live in multi-generational households. We work long hours and we work in areas where COVID-19 patients are cared for."

At this socially distanced event, nurses reflected on a year of struggle, including fighting for personal protective equipment.

"We had nurses at our hospital that did get COVID and some are still having what they call long haulers syndrome; really long term effects from COVID and they're still not back to the way they should be," says Esther Karpf, who's been an RN for 35 years.

In closing, Cortez urged people to "pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living." 

Nurses say if you care about and respect frontline workers, please get vaccinated, that health care workers are still getting sick and dying from COVID-19.