Arizona native turned COVID-19 activist Kristin Urquiza will be one of former Vice President Joe Biden’s guests at Tuesday’s presidential debate against President Donald Trump.
Urquiza lives in San Francisco now, but she grew up in the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix, and that’s where her father, Mark, was living when he contracted the virus that took his life. In the wake of his death, she started Marked By COVID, an organization that aims to “fight back against the COVID crisis” — and the leaders who she says led millions of Americans to ignore the seriousness of the pandemic, resulting in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” she said in a speech last month at the Democratic National Convention. “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump — and for that he paid with his life.”
Her DNC speech also focused on helping communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and how her father felt “betrayed by Donald Trump.”
Urquiza gained notoriety in July when an obituary for her father in The Arizona Republic went viral. In it, she said he death “is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.”
The obituary, and the #HonestObituaries campaign she has led, was inspired by activists like Cleve Jones, the man behind the AIDS quilt that sought to raise attention to the suffering that disease wrought.
Urquiza told Arizona Mirror the invitation from the Biden campaign came out of the blue.
“I feel obviously incredibly honored to be a guest of Vice President Biden’s at the debate,” she said.
Urquiza is now dedicating her time to helping others who have been affected by the virus.
“We haven’t had the recognition that our family members and our loved ones deserve,” Urquiza said. That’s why she and Jones will be hosting a national week of mourning for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“Having a loved one be lost and sick under COVID is unlike any other illness,” she said. “You can’t hold traditional mechanisms for mourning because of the risks of infection.”
Every day between Oct. 4 through Oct. 11, Marked by COVID will hold livestreams featuring moments of silence, reading of names of lost loved ones and more. They’re also planning a socially distanced funeral procession in San Francisco.
As for the debate Tuesday night, Urquiza is excited to be representing Arizona and hopes Arizonans pay close attention.
She said she hopes “people from Arizona can put politics aside and take a moment to listen to both candidates,” but that they will inevitably see that President Trump lied about the virus leading to many Arizonans to “needlessly” die.
— Kristin Urquiza, MPA (she/her) (@kdurquiza) September 30, 2020
The debate also brings some anxiety for Urquiza.
“I’m waiting to see how I feel being in the same room as the person who is responsible for my dad’s death,” Urquiza said. “I’m expecting it’s going to be challenging.”
***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include Kristin Urquiza’s tweet from the debate room