One thousand candles illuminated behind them, essential personnel and union leaders gathered on Minnesota's Capitol steps in St. Paul on the evening of Friday, May 1 to honor essential workers who have fallen ill during the coronavirus pandemic.
About a dozen congregated for the May Day, or International Workers Day, candlelit ceremony. The sunset colored the Capitol building golden as they took an hour to place each battery-operated tealight candle on the steps.
Mary Turner, the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said the ceremony was in honor of workers "keeping Minnesota going in the hospitals, in the streets, in the grocery stores and in the kitchens despite the risks."
"Nurses and health care workers are risking their very lives but they're still doing it because this is the moment we've been preparing for," she said. "It's a time when Minnesota needs us the most and as always, we are there."
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 7% of confirmed COVID-19 patients in the state are health care workers. The Department of Health does not have data publicly available on the professions of other patients.
Representatives of other local labor unions and the Minnesota Professional Firefighters Association attended, as well.
Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, noted at Friday's demonstration that "mayday" is a distress signal, applicable to the dire circumstances frontline workers are facing now with shortages of personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing supplies. But May Day is a day to honor all workers, she said.
"Most of us have to work for a living. Most of us like what we do," she said. "All we ask is that you listen to us and protect us so we can do our jobs."