It’s been 6 weeks since Kristin Urquiza lost her father, Mark, to COVID-19.
Like hundreds of thousands of others who have lost a loved one to COVID-19, she’s grieving his loss. But she’s also turning to activism to deal with her pain.
On Monday, she was a primetime speaker at the virtual Democratic National Convention.
She’s also launched an organization called Marked By COVID to galvanize people to push for change.
She talked to Healthline this week about her mourning and her mission.
Kristin, thank you for speaking with us. Let’s start by talking about your dad. You’ve said he was somebody who was relatively healthy.
Yes, he had no underlying health conditions. He had just been to the doctor a few months prior to have sort of an annual physical. My aunts and uncles were talking about that shortly after he passed. He had sent everybody a big text message saying “Healthy as a whistle.” So this shouldn’t have happened to him.
My dad loved to celebrate and bring people together. He loved sports. He was a huge karaoke guy. He just had a lot of fun. Everybody that I meet, even now, tell me he would just light up a room and make people feel at ease.
But then he got sick?
Yes. So, he lived in Arizona, the state that had a full reopen on May 15. My dad woke up on June 11 with symptoms of cough, fever, and exhaustion.
Leading up to my dad getting sick was just a really challenging time.
My parents and I had had ongoing conversations about how to mitigate risk. He wore a mask. He just went to work and back. He was the guy in charge of getting groceries, but otherwise he kind of tucked away at the house with my mom. We were more concerned about my mom because she’s 64 and diabetic.
The reopening came and the governor of Arizona went on a big media spree saying if you don’t have an underlying health condition, it’s safe out there. My dad believed him. He was a supporter of both the governor and the president.
Once that was the direction from the governor and the president, my dad was in lockstep with them. So, when everything reopened, his friends from karaoke called to say, “Let’s get back together.”
I told my dad not to do that. But he was like, “Well, you know, Kristin, I understand what you’re saying. But if it’s not safe to be out there, why would the governor say it’s safe?” I couldn’t compete with that megaphone from the governor’s office and the White House. So my dad met up with a couple of friends a couple of times.
I suspect that he picked it (the virus) up at a karaoke place. He started exhibiting symptoms on June 11, less than a month after the shelter-in-place was lifted. My mom called me and I said immediately it sounds like COVID symptoms. We need to assume it’s COVID. We need to get him a test. We need to figure out how to keep the two of you as far apart as possible.
I just went into crisis mode. We were lucky enough to get him a test on the 12th, the next day. I say lucky because that weekend there were accounts of people waiting in line upward of 13 hours to get a test in my neighborhood in 108-degree weather.
But we never got the test results back. That was another ongoing issue in Arizona at the time, huge delays in testing results. Even after my dad passed I went through his phone to check his messages and to see if he’d gotten a call back and never found a message.
I had been calling my parents literally every couple of hours. I had the CDC guidelines pulled up and went through the symptoms. What do you feel now? How about headaches? How strong are they? I was just tracking where my dad was.
On the morning of the 16th, my dad woke up struggling to breathe. My mom knew to take him to the hospital. At the hospital, he was able to get a rapid test, which confirmed he was COVID positive. They immediately put him on high-flow oxygen treatment. And that began the 2-week saga of my dad being in the hospital.
You’ve said you weren’t able to be with your dad, that he died alone with a nurse holding his hand. That had to be tough.
It’s agonizing. You know, when my dad went into the ICU, he was planning to come out. I also know that he was terrified. It was not only not being with him when he passed that was hard, but it was hard not being with him around the clock while he was struggling for his life.
Just thinking about my dad those last few days, hearing the strange noises in the ICU, the voices of strangers, and not being able to hear the voices of the people who were wanting him to live, that just breaks my heart.
You’ve co-founded an organization called Marked By COVID. What is it, and what’s its mission?
My dad’s name was Mark, so it’s a little bit of a nod to him. We’re really serving as a platform to help others share their stories. It’s also to help hold public officials who have failed us accountable. It’s not just for people who have lost loved ones, but also for folks that stand to lose and have been impacted in other ways.
And there are other fronts. We’ve been connecting with, supporting, and strategizing with teachers. For example, we’re working really closely with a group of teachers across the state of Iowa who have serious concerns about the reopening strategy that their governor is implementing across their state.
We’re in this crisis and we’re calling for a data-driven, coordinated, national response to this pandemic. That’s our first mandate. But looking beyond that, I’ve been thinking a lot about recovery and restitution. I think we become an entity that advocates for those most impacted.
Tell me where you think we are versus where we need to be in this crisis.
It’s been a complete failure. I believe the president has mostly abdicated his responsibilities. We’re now losing a thousand people a day. That’s every 3 days, the equivalent of a 9/11. Back then, we completely came together as a country and pulled in a certain direction in order to respond to that crisis.
Now we’re not even on the map when it comes to our response. The thing I’m most disappointed in is the downplaying of the virus by the president and his administration from day 1: the contradictory information, the total disregard for science, ignoring the recommendations of Dr. Fauci, and undermining the scientific recommendations.
Hey, I get it… this is a new thing. We’re still learning about the virus. But what I’m seeing is, instead of responding to the new data, it’s wiping our hands, walking away, and letting the chips fall where they may.
This administration has abdicated its responsibility in the time of greatest need. History will look strongly down on Donald Trump for what he’s done to this country.
You spoke at the Democratic National Convention this week. You’ve launched an advocacy group. Does this activism help you cope with your loss?
Absolutely… I’ve never had a loss this big. I’m an only child. I’m fortunate to still have my mother with me. But I always knew that losing a parent would be really, really hard.
Being able to connect with others who feel like me, not just folks who have lost loved ones.
But connecting with folks who see the policy failures and the national response failure has helped me feel less alone.
I’m in contact with a lot of people through this advocacy work. What they’re telling me is that I’m giving them strength and helping them in their darkest hour. That helps. That’s like oxygen for me.