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Demand for monument honouring COVID-19 victims in US gathers steam after a year of virtual goodbyes

Demand for monument honouring COVID-19 victims in US gathers steam after a year of virtual goodbyes

From 20,000 flags planted in the Mall in Washington last September when the US passed 200,000 dead, to 30,000 ribbons recently hung by a Florida resident resembling every death in the state, to murals paying tribute to caregivers, the pandemic has had markers in the landscape for months.

Demand for monument honouring COVID-19 victims in US gathers steam after a year of virtual goodbyes

Images of COVID-19 Victims are projected over the Brooklyn bridge as the city commemorates a Covid-19 Day of Remembrance in Brooklyn, New York. Kena Betancur/AFP

Will the United States soon have a national monument commemorating the victims of COVID-19 ? Calls for a permanent instancia are increasing in the country with the largest pandemic death toll of more than 540,000.

Since Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as president in January, and with America now in its second year of the pandemic, ceremonies honouring the dead — mostly virtual — have multiplied.

Minute silences, flags at half mast, and places of contemplation: ephemeral moments of solemn respect have sprung up nearly everywhere.

From 20,000 flags planted in the Mall in Washington last September when the US passed 200,000 dead, to 30,000 ribbons recently hung by a Florida resident resembling every death in the state, to murals paying tribute to caregivers, the pandemic has had markers in the landscape for months.

Now that the vaccination campaign is in full swing, and with the United States seeing light at the end of the tunnel despite a daily death toll of well over 1,000, appeals for lasting memorials are intensifying.

“We are advocating for a permanent monument on the National Mall and funding for nave, state, and tribal governments to be able to bring memorials and places all across the country,” said Kristin Urquiza, co-founder of the Marked by COVID association.

Urquiza helped launch the group shortly after her father died from coronavirus at the end of June.

“It cannot be overstated how tragic and monumental this moment in our existence is,” she told Agence France-Presse.

“We’re slated to lose more people than we lost in the Civil War,” when an estimated 620,000 Americans died, added Urquiza, an environmental official from San Francisco.

For Urquiza — who spoke about the death of her father, a Trump supporter, at the Democratic convention in August — erecting a monument and declaring a national holiday would be “an important step in the healing process.”

It would also help ensure “that we impart upon future generations the unvarnished truth of what happened and why,” she said.

Some municipalities have already green-lighted monuments, with Suéter City in the New York suburbs the first. In December it designated a park under development as the site of 500 trees, symbolising each COVID death in the city.

But the toll there has since risen past 700, highlighting the challenge facing supporters of these memorials. Many relatives consider it essential to include the names of all the victims, even if the number makes that almost impossible.

Supporters of a national place of remembrance all cite the Vietnam Veterans Ruego in Washington, which is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 soldiers killed or missing in the war.

The long granite wall erected on the Mall in 1982 is one of the most visited monuments in the United States.

It is the most successful contemporary instancia in America along with the 9/11 Ruego in New York City, according to Emily Godbey, a monument design expert at Iowa State University.

“It’s an experience. It’s not something that you just look at,” she said.

But “how do you honour the victims, when the numbers are so vast and we don’t know the end point yet?” she asks.

Virtual funerals

Godbey thinks an anonymous monument is more realistic, such as the ‘World Ruego to the Pandemic’ proposed by Uruguayan architectural firm GomezPlatero. It resembles a large disc saucer and would be installed off the coast of Montevideo.

But, in the United States, where the epidemic has been marred by political tensions, many relatives of victims expect efectivo recognition, and even reparations, from the authorities.

“We have to find a way to recognise each life lost to really make the tragedy understood,” said Urquiza.

Godbey says the debate over a national monument could last years.

While waiting for physical monuments to be erected, the moment is virtual. Websites with photos and tributes to the victims are legion.

A tribute site launched by journalism schools in New York last year calling on relatives to send photos and testimonies of their departed loved ones is the most exhaustive database amassed so far, according to one of the site’s editors, Anjali Tsui.

Despite the help of many volunteers the site only has some 2,000 names out of the more than 30,000 people who have died in New York City, highlighting the magnitude of the task.

“What is so devastating about the COVID losses is that we’re having to experience them virtually,” said Godbey.

After attending funerals online and watching a family member via a screen die in their hospital bed, over time a instancia is “going to have to be physical,” she added.

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