HOUSTON - The deadly coronavirus has claimed more than 800,000 American lives and a Houston-based online memorial seeks to ensure while they are no longer with us, they will certainly not be forgotten.
For a year now, the COVID-19 Wall of Memories has been memorializing fallen victims of the deadly virus from all over the country. And the city of Houston recognized co-founders Mohammed and Ruth Nasrullah for their extensive work Tuesday with a proclamation honoring the wall.
"It's very validating makes us feel proud, not just of ourselves with our team from start to finish from the people who design the website to the people who maintain it every day," Ruth said in an interview with FOX 26.
Wall of Memories: A Closer Look
The site’s homepage, which launched in January 2021, shows a gallery of monochrome faces that are highlighted in color once the viewer’s mouse hovers over their picture. To date, the website has more than 10,000 people honored on the wall.
"When you compare that to the total number of people who have died in this country - 826,000 - 10,000 just represent 1.2% so if you look at from that perspective, it's really a very, very small number, but it is a sad, sad thing that we have 10,000 people on the wall," Mohammed said.
In addition to spotlighting fallen victims, however, the site also serves as an educational tool to show the importance of COVID-19.
Outside of the website, the Nasrullah’s have partnered with local organizations to provide care packages to ICU staff and nurses at Houston’s major hospitals, as well as volunteering at vaccine drives, such as the one in Fifth Ward last Summer.
COVID-19 Wall of Memories Day - January 4
A virtual celebration was held Tuesday to share the proclamation issued by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was unable to attend but Councilmember Letitia Plummer was present to share the good news.
"Mayor Turner and I have been the most vocal about our experience and having COVID and just what we've dealt with the process and so I know this really means something to him. You know, he's from Acres Homes and so and that's a community that was really hit hard."
Councilmember Plummer told FOX 26 in an interview she first learned about COVID-19 Wall of Memories while in its inception and has even shared her own experience contracting the virus on the website during the early moments of the pandemic.
"When [the Nasrullahs] launched it, I was on the launch video with them, and, and really been able to be an integral part of my stories on the site, as well so it's amazing," she noted. "When I got COVID, the loneliness that you feel is, is probably more paramount than anything else. Obviously, things are a bit different now, but the ones that first got it first on, it was really a lonely experience."
For that reason, Councilmember Plummer argued it’s imperative to share these stories of fallen victims.
"I do believe that sharing the stories of people that have passed away is really important because they really weren't able to speak with their loved ones to talk to them," she explained. "And I think I thought it was a lot of people just passed away, in silence in some ways and so I think the COVID-19 Wall of Memories is really important because it, it brings their stories to life in a lot of ways."
What COVID-19 Wall of Memories means for Houston
In addition to being honored with the proclamation, the COVID-19 Wall of Memories was selected for the U.S. Library of Congress website, which will be made accessible in May 2022.
"To me, it’s just thrilling because of the permanence, you know, that it guarantees," Ruth noted. "And, of course, it’s an honor that they looked across the Internet and saw our website and thought that it was worthy of that honor."
ADDITIONAL COVID-19 COVERAGE: Doctors encourage prioritizing mental health to avoid 'COVID fatigue'
"A lot of families that have visited the wall have memories and left messages with their loved ones that are on the wall, and shared that story and the project with their family and friends, so it kind of gives them some peace and comfort," Mohammed added. "And that kind of gives me a good feeling that we're doing something to help others."
Looking ahead for the COVID-19 Wall of Memories
The couple was overwhelmed with emotion when they learned January 4, would be known as COVID-19 Wall of Memories Day but said the entire experience is bittersweet considering the omicron variant and cases skyrocketing in Harris County.
"When I used to work for a civil rights organization, we would say we will, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job - and this is sort of like that; It would be nice if we didn't have if we weren't doing it if there was no reason to do it - if there were no COVID Omicron pandemic, you know, maybe one day there will be but yeah, it is bittersweet."
The positive feedback from families of fallen victims, however, is what the Nasrullahs said inspires them to keep doing what they do and hope more people will come forward to honor their loved ones who lost their lives to the deadly coronavirus.
"What we would really love to see more of is people all over the country, as well as in this area, submitting their loved one's stories on the wall, we just had three come in Tuesday morning," Ruth concluded. "And it's just…heartwarming, but it makes us feel like we're doing something really positive when we get all kinds of different stories from people."
To submit a story of your loved one for the COVID-19 Wall of Memories, click here.