Massive mural of doctor who died of COVID-19 honors immigrant frontline workers in New York City

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Courtesy; CBS

Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo is remembered by friends as a grandfather whose dedication to pediatrics was only outweighed by his love and compassion for his community. Now, Dr. Decoo’s life is being memorialized for all of those in New York City to see — in a massive mural painted in honor of the immigrant health care workers who lost their lives while helping to fight the coronavirus. 

The 20,000-square-foot mural now lays on display at the Queens Museum – Flushing Meadows Corona Park. 

SOMOS, a network of 2,500 immigrant physicians that serves thousands of people in the low-income and immigrant community, commissioned the mural to be painted in honor of Dr. Decoo and the other immigrant physicians who have fought the pandemic. 

The mural was painted by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada in just five days. Rodriguez-Gerada told CBS News that he has always been interested in using his work to bring attention to social issues, and that as the pandemic continued, he realized it was killing a disproportionate number of Latinos and African Americans. 

More than 27% of the people who die from coronavirus in virus hotspots are Latino, despite making up 18% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

“Latinos are on the frontlines of many things, you know, caregivers, nurses, doctors, and transit workers and sort of keeping everything going … a lot are losing their lives,” Rodriguez-Gerada said. “So I wanted to figure out a way if there’s a way to create an image that can help us mourn together in a time when the nation feels more divided than ever.”

Dr. Ramon Tallaj, chairman of the board of SOMOS, said he was friends with Decoo for decades. In an emotional phone call with CBS News, he described Decoo as an honest and sincere family man who traveled with him to do missions in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico. 

Up until his death, he worked and volunteered in his community, delivering food and helping people who were dealing with the economic burdens of the crisis, Tallaj said. 

“We need people who are willing to risk their lives, and in the moment, nobody wants to,” Tallaj said. “It’s people like us, people of color, who have to take care of the community. … Frontline workers are regular people that wash the dishes, take the train, and they are the ones who are dying.” 

Tallaj said that Decoo, a Dominican immigrant and pediatrician who lived in Washington Heights, chose to forgo his retirement to treat patients during the coronavirus pandemic. Decoo co-founded SOMOS, he said, adding that in April, he was one of the first doctors in Queens to die from the virus. He was 70 years old. 

“He was closer and closer to retiring, and instead of bowing out and taking the easy road, he said, ‘No, no, I’m going in,'” Rodriguez-Gerada said. “He wanted to be there for his patients and he lost his life to it. I mean, basically that makes him a hero.”

The mural will be on display in the park through at least the upcoming weekend. 

This article is adapted from CBS News.

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