.Watsonville Looks to Memorialize Lives Lost in Covid-19 Pandemic

The city of Watsonville is requesting proposals from an artist, or a group of artists, to design, fabricate and install a temporary or permanent memorial to commemorate and honor Watsonville residents who died after falling ill with Covid-19.

The request for proposals (RFP), which closes on April 2, is open to all working artists above the age of 18 that have “demonstrated mastery in the execution of art pieces using proposed materials.”

“The memorial art piece will give the residents of Watsonville, as well as visitors, a place at which to reflect on this significant time in our country’s history,” the RFP reads.

The proposal went live as Santa Cruz County approached the 200-death mark and reached the one-year anniversary of the countywide shutdown that sought to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Since then, more than 15,000 county residents have tested positive for Covid-19 and 455 have been hospitalized with the disease. The majority of the county’s Covid-19 cases have been in Watsonville residents.

“Covid hit our community the hardest,” Watsonville Assistant City Manager Tamara Vides said. “There were many lives, unfortunately, that were lost in this historical event.”

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It is unclear how many Watsonville residents have died with Covid-19 as a contributing factor, as the county has not yet publicly released data on deaths by zip code or city despite multiple requests from this publication. According to the county’s most recent data, 196 county residents have died with Covid-19.

The majority of deaths (102) have come in skilled nursing and residential care facilities. That includes the 18 deaths recorded at Watsonville Post Acute Center in an outbreak last year. Other local facilities that saw a resident die with Covid-19 include: Watsonville Nursing Center (4), Valley Convalescent (4), Montecito Manor (3), Rachelle’s Home (3) and De Un Amor (2).

A total of 94 Covid-19-related deaths were not linked to skilled nursing or residential care facilities.

But conditions have improved recently, as intensive care unit bed capacity across the county has stabilized. Watsonville Community Hospital (WCH) told the Pajaronian Tuesday that it did not have a Covid-19 patient in its intensive care unit (ICU) for the first time in several months. The 106-bed, general acute care hospital has treated more than 1,100 Covid-19 patients since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s a great sign,” Vides said of WCH’s ICU not having any Covid-19 patients. “Our numbers are going down, we see that as a trend, not just here but around the state.”

Mayor Jimmy Dutra brought the idea of the memorial forward in a City Council meeting earlier this year, saying that a family member asked if the city could honor those that have died in the last 12 months.

“We’ve lost a lot of people due to Covid in Watsonville,” Dutra said.

If all goes according to plan, the city will conduct interviews with prospective artists the week of April 12 and the proposed project will go before the Parks & Recreation Commission the first week of May. The city could approve a contract with the artist(s) as early as May 11, according to the RFP.

There has been no site selected for the project, and there are no budget limitations included in the RFP—the city is leaving that decision up to the prospective artist(s). The RFP, however, does say that applicants should consider requesting to locate the memorial at City-owned property such as a local park or government building.


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Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.
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