A memorial wall of granite in Nesconset is to start including workers who were sickened by the 9/11 wreckage if they also die of COVID-19, so long as they had an underlying condition related to their work in the attacks’ aftermath, the head of the nonprofit that runs the memorial said Tuesday.
Currently more than 1,500 names are sandblasted and spray painted in silver on the wall, at 9/11 Responders Remembered Memorial Park, 316 Smithtown Blvd., honoring those whose causes of death are from ailments certified to have been contracted due to the airborne toxins from the Ground Zero wreckage.
But, citing a decision last month by the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund giving benefits to grantees who die of COVID-19, the nonprofit head, John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, decided to adopt the broader standard for the Suffolk wall too.
"9/11-responder immune systems are compromised, so for the last 19 years their immune systems have deteriorated," Feal said Tuesday night, adding: "They were not able to fight COVID-19 like they could have."
A foundation board vote last Thursday greenlighted the change for the wall, said Feal, who announced the update on Facebook, explaining that the change had been under consideration for weeks.
"I think the families deserve that their loved ones go on our wall," Feal said in the interview.
The decision by the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund came on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and declared that families of first responders and others who worked at the wreckage site with a 9/11-related illness, who die after contracting COVID-19, are eligible for benefits if the death certificate lists an eligible condition as an underlying cause of death.
Feal said that Long Islanders made up about 38% of Ground Zero responders, who include police officers, firefighters, medics, laborers, and others.
"It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the humanly right thing to do, and this should be a bar for how we treat each other and how we pay our respect to each other," Feal said.
Feal said the foundation had received about 150 submissions, of which about two dozen had been vetted and confirmed. For 2020, 170 names were added. For 2019, 205.
Any new name for the wall, he said, will be added for the Nesconset event marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks next year. The wall dates to 2011.
COVID-19 hits people with compromised immune systems harder, and the responders are getting older.
"With age people die," Feal said. "Now add those illnesses, and people are gonna die much faster, and it's gonna get worse."