Essential workers mark 1 year since COVID-19 declared a national emergency

Essential workers gathered on Saturday to reflect on one year since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. (FOX 9)

Saturday, March 13 marked a milestone: one year since the declaration of a national emergency because of COVID-19.

"This year, the last year, was really long for me. [It] has been a nightmare," frontline worker Elia Starkweather said.

Also this week, Gov. Tim Walz announced an expansion of COVID-19 vaccine availability in Minnesota, with the potential of all Minnesotans being eligible by early summer. Starkweather, a janitor in the Twin Cities, lost four of her colleagues to COVID-19.

"It’s really painful to see that empty chair every single day in the building," Starkweather said. In January, Starkweather contracted the virus herself.

"I was scared to death," Starkweather said. "I was scared to lose my family, in the meantime I was thinking how am I going to pay the bills."

"Today we honor the sacrifices of all the essential workers who have contracted COVID-19," Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner added.

Now that we are more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear to many that so much about our world has changed, but there’s also optimism about positive change to come.

"There is an end in sight, there is hope. A year ago there was no hope," Turner said. "We didn’t know what we were dealing with and we had no vaccine."

"If you don’t see the end it’s hard to keep running when no one will tell you where the finish line is," Gov. Tim Walz said at press briefing on Friday.

The governor says vaccines are now bringing the finish line closer, as society longs for a return to normal life.

"There is this real need for optimism to get people to say ‘yes, I can buckle down and finish the last mile of this race’… because we’re almost done," Gov. Walz said.

He projects 700,000 more Minnesotans could be vaccinated by the end of March; but adds that it will depend on supply. Frontline workers say that the vaccines can’t come soon enough.

"Today is a special day for me because it’s a year, we passed the whole year," Starkweather finished.