Memorial Hospital remembers pandemic one year later with flag ceremony

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on us all, but especially the frontline workers tasked with saving countless lives.

Frontline workers at Memorial Hospital marked one year since the start of the pandemic in a special way on Wednesday with yellow flags for members of its staff to display in the front of its hospital entrance -- as a symbolic healing gesture of letting go and looking forward.

“I didn’t realize how much I needed this, to be honest with you. To take this flag and put it in the ground, there’s such hope in this that we have come through this year,” said Sharron Seitz, Memorial Hospital’s Infection Prevention Director.

Seitz said the flags serve as a bright symbol.

“The yellow is just hope and the sun and the spring and new beginnings. Really and truly, I think that’s the most powerful color we could’ve picked for this time,” Seitz said. “It’s just a line in the sand, that we’re on the other side. Hopefully, we’re on the other side of this war that has been won. Against an enemy that we couldn’t see.”

Memorial Hospital was the first Northeast Florida hospital to admit the first COVID-19 patient back on March 11, 2020.

As days and weeks went by, Seitz and Dr. Kenneth King, an emergency medicine physician at the hospital, helped care for the thousands of patients that came through their doors. Some had to be put on ventilators and be treated in intensive care. Seitz said some moments, she felt powerless. But through the darkness, the staff came alive for their patients.

“They were Face Timing and holding phones and getting computers so they could make those connections,” Seitz said. “For some families, it was a goodbye. And you never get a second chance to say goodbye.”

There were personal challenges, too. King spoke of anxiety and experiencing emotional burnout while caring for patients. Furthermore, his biggest fear was contracting the virus himself, and bringing it home to his loved ones.

“But a joy I get is seeing patients get better after treatment and they’re reunited with their family,” King said. “That is my biggest reward.”

Then came the news of the first vaccines becoming available. Seitz still remembers becoming emotional after seeing the news footage of the first vaccines being rolled out of Michigan warehouses.

“I stood in my living room and I just cried,” Seitz said. “What we didn’t know at the time was how this was going to end. All of a sudden, hope was coming out of those warehouses.”

The vaccines quickly reached Memorial Hospital Jacksonville. As more people roll up their sleeves, Seitz and King ask people to not be complacent. The doctors say the preventive measures people have taken with COVID-19 are showing to be effective in other ways.

“We don’t see much influenza, I’ve seen two cases so far,” King said. “That’s great. So, wearing masks protects you and protects against the transmission of viruses.”

King and Seitz urge people to continue washing their hands, wearing masks and staying socially distant when possible. If you experience any issues or don’t feel well, they urge you not to hesitate to come to the hospital for treatment. Most of all, they ask people to remember this timeless message.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Seitz said. “Our workplaces changed in a minute, our lives changed in a minute. And hang onto your loved ones, those moments are precious.”

Reflecting on a difficult year while still celebrating victories, moving forward and cherishing special moments with those we love.

“Those are tremendous gifts that we should never take for granted again,” Seitz said. “Hug your loved ones tight. We never know.”

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