The coronavirus pandemic took the lives of many family members and friends, but on Wednesday night, the nurses who perished from exposure to the virus in the line of duty were remembered.
Vigils were held in many parts of the country, including San Diego. Organizers say honoring those frontline workers is not the only purpose for these memorials.
The names of more than 400 nurses who died fighting to save lives over the duration of the pandemic were read out lud. Nurses and supporters masked and socially distanced in their cars, gathered at the Westfield Mission Valley Mall parking lot on International Nurses Day.
"They are there for us in emergencies, they are there for us around the clock," participant Ruben Benedetti said.
Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.
National Nurses United spokesperson and registered nurse Dahlia Tayat said the nurses honored did not have to die.
"If we had optimal PPE last year these nurses might have been alive," Tayat said.
Memorial participants recall the early days of the pandemic and PPE shortages later on.
"When we barely started, we weren't even wearing masks yet. Then during the pandemic, we ran out of PPE many times," local nurse Daisy Alcantar said.
All the while, the nurse’s union staged rallies, wrote politicians and even the president, Tayat said. They lobbied for safer working conditions and appropriate levels of staffing and PPE.
"We did not sign up to take the risk of dying from this pandemic, we signed up as nurses to care for patients," Tayat said.
Nurses still working on the front lines of the pandemic are thought of everywhere as heroes.
"Hard workers, they're risking their lives," Alcantar said.
Those who died in the fight to save lives were remembered for their sacrifice.
The nurses’ union spokesperson said mistakes made at the beginning of the pandemic should not be repeated and said the health care industry can honor those who died by being better prepared for such large-scale disasters in the future.