A grim memorial has been added to the central green in Washington, DC: 20,000 US flags now dot the landscape surrounding the Washington Monument, commemorating the passing of more than 200,000 Americans from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to NBC, the memorial was created by a group of friends from the Washington, DC, area who crowdfunded the money for the flags. About two dozen volunteers began planting the flags on Monday morning, helped by many passersby.
One sign next to the impromptu memorial reads: “In memory of the 200,000+ Americans who have needlessly lost their lives to COVID-19.” Another says, “200,000 dead. They deserved better.”
However, the total death count in the US is in all likelihood far higher. The pandemic hasn’t just killed Americans through infection with the respiratory virus, but also through starvation, poverty, eviction, exposure and simply sheer despair.
On August 12, when the death toll attributed to the novel coronavirus was about 140,000, the New York Times reported that a total of 200,000 more deaths had occurred in 2020 than would normally have occurred had there been no pandemic. In other words, another 60,000 had died during the pandemic, but not from COVID-19. However, researchers have also noted the difficulties in definitively attributing cause of death to COVID-19 for people who had the disease.
"It's just incomprehensible, the situation we find ourselves in," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said at the memorial on Tuesday. "This was preventable. Not all of it, but much of it," she said, adding that the flags offer "some perspective on the number of lives that have been lost."
US President Donald Trump has once again come under intense scrutiny for his handling of the pandemic, in particular its opening stages in early 2020. Earlier this month, journalist Bob Woodward revealed that Trump said he knew the dangers posed by the virus long before they were made known to the public; Trump responded that he “perhaps” played down the threat, in the interests of preventing a general panic.
In early February, when the outbreak was still confined to China, he repeatedly suggested it was a minor threat compared even to influenza and assured the US public the government had it under control. Three months later, on May 24, the US registered its 100,000th death to the virus, which the New York Times called “an incalculable loss.”
Asked about the 200,000 milestone on Tuesday, Trump told reporters outside the White House that “if we didn’t do it properly,” the US would have lost 2.5 million people instead. Early estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that, without implementing mass shutdowns to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 infections, the US could have seen between 200,000 and 1.7 million deaths - the former of which the US has reached nonetheless.
Globally, 966,500 people have died from COVID-19 and 31.4 million people have been infected, according to data collected by the New York Times.