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For nearly a decade, Chris Kocher worked to help survivors of gun violence speak out for change. Now he’s doing the same for survivors of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID Survivors for Change bills itself as a national, nonpartisan lobbying group that brings together Americans who have survived COVID-19 or lost a loved one to it.

The number of people who have suffered such a loss is staggering. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 612,000 people have died from complications due to the virus in the United States. More than 34 million have been infected.

Kocher — who started the program that became the Everytown Survivor Network, the nation’s largest community of gun violence survivors — says there’s commonality between COVID survivors and victims of gun violence.

“There is the same thing at the core, which is people who have experienced trauma,” Kocher told Yahoo News in a recent interview. “It’s people who have been impacted by a public health crisis, who have lost a loved one and who want to be part of an effort to change.”

The changes that the group is lobbying for include paid family leave and support for millions of so-called COVID long-haulers and children who have lost a parent to COVID-19, which researchers estimate to be more than 46,000.

“The scale of need is so astronomic,” Kocher said. “I think that humans are almost not capable of understanding an enormous number like more than 600,000 [dead], more than 30 million people who have been infected, more than 40,000 children who lost a parent or caregiver — what does that look like? But you can understand what one story looks like.”

One of the main things his group does is help survivors tell their stories. More than 500 have received advocacy training since COVID Survivors for Change launched last September.

“When you hear these stories, not only do you understand what the pandemic has cost millions of families across the country, but you want to be part of the effort to make sure that this never happens again,” Kocher said.

The group has also organized a nationwide march on Aug. 7 to raise awareness about the ongoing needs of the COVID survivor community.

“I think a big obstacle is people are exhausted by the pandemic,” Kocher said. “Even if you haven’t lost a loved one or had COVID yourself, you’ve had a rough year. People want to move past this. And so, you know, we’re working really hard to make sure that people understand that the pandemic is not over. COVID is not over.”

Published in Yahoo News