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New memorial at the Kentucky Capitol honors people lost to COVID-19

A new memorial stands on the Kentucky Capitol grounds. It honors more than 18,000 Kentuckians who've died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in 2020.
Office Of The Kentucky Governor
A new memorial stands on the Kentucky Capitol grounds. It honors more than 18,000 Kentuckians who've died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in 2020.

More than 18,600 Kentuckians have died from COVID-19 so far. The memorial devoted to their remembrance is named after the state motto: “United We Stand. Divided We Fall.”

Gov. Andy Beshear and other public officials gathered Wednesday to dedicate the monument on the Kentucky Capitol grounds, where it stands in recognition of the lives lost since the pandemic began in early 2020.

“In a little more than three years, this evil virus caused the deaths of more than 1.1 million Americans. That includes a devastating 18,653 Kentuckians,” the governor said. “Almost instantly, COVID became the third-leading cause of death, even giving cancer and heart disease a run for their money.”

That loss is one legacy of this pandemic, Beshear said. He also spoke of the unity of purpose Kentuckians showed — a unity that saved lives as people collectively worked to limit the virus’ spread, especially during the first year after COVID-19 emerged.

Secretary of State employee Kandie Adkinson opened Wednesday’s ceremony by ringing bells, just like she did at the Capitol on many mornings during the pandemic as a gesture of empathy and unity.

Artist Amanda Matthews, of Prometheus Art in Lexington, made the memorial sculpture.

It features human figures positioned around a central monument, with reflective silver spheres as a recurring motif.

Matthews said Wednesday that a small bell sits in the chest of each figure. And “the center of the memorial will glow green in the evening” — a callback to the green lights people across Kentucky turned on nightly in remembrance of the people dying from the virus.

Beshear announced plans for the monument in November 2021 after the state’s COVID-19 Memorial Advisory Panel picked the design. A news release from the governor’s office said donations funded the project.

Jacqueline Woodward, who was on the advisory panel, spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony about her husband of 45 years, Gary Woodward. He was a nurse who died from the virus.

“I know him very well, and I know he would say, ‘I’m overjoyed and I am humbled by this memorial.’ I also know he would say, ‘I was just doing my job of caring for others,’” she said. “He will forever be my health care hero.”

“Grief is strange. I can’t plan it and I certainly can’t control it,” she said. “There is no way to truly prepare for the grief that we have experienced. However, the COVID memorial brings me joy because I know that my loved one will never be forgotten.”

The governor noted that the COVID memorial is now part of the State Capitol Monument Park, a “place of prominence.”

“Generations of Kentuckians will come to this area of the Capitol to learn about our heroes as well as reflect on the many great challenges that we faced together, including the once-in-every-hundred-years pandemic,” he said.

He said the scale of the losses is something people will live with for years to come.

“That’s why we made the decision to build this memorial. Because I wanted everyone who has lost someone to this virus to know that their loved one is important,” Beshear said.

The memorial’s dedication comes about two weeks after the federal government ended its public health emergency for COVID.

The coronavirus hasn’t gone away, although vaccines made it less lethal. Some people still are hospitalized or die from it, while others get long COVID after their infection.

Nationally, reported weekly death tolls have declined to record lows this year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Morgan is Louisville Public Media's health reporter. Email Morgan at