Artist Plants Over 660,000 White Flags on National Mall to Show What America’s Coronavirus Death Toll Looks Like

Volunteers plant white flags on the National Mall on Wednesday for the “In America: Remember” public art installation commemorating all Americans who have died from COVID-19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Jeneffer Haynes is among the roughly 300 volunteers planting a crop of more than 660,000 white flags on the National Mall — it’s a physical representation of the staggering death toll of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

One of those flags bears the words “John Estampador.” It’s the name of Haynes’ brother — a 30-year-old born with Down syndrome who always gave her big hugs. He died after contracting COVID-19 in January before he had access to a vaccine.

“It brings me some form of comfort to keep their memories alive,” she said. “That’s what this is all about — to memorialize and keep them alive in some way, shape or form.”

Haynes said she had to take medical leave from her job at a Maryland biotechnology company, suffering from panic attacks and working on her mental health in therapy. Her brother’s death left her whole family with a deep sense of loss, and the virus barely spared the lives of her mom and dad, who lived with Estampador and were sickened in January.

Haynes could only visit her brother through a window for 30 minutes each day while he was in an intensive care unit. She couldn’t go into the room.

“I couldn’t hold his hand, I couldn’t hug him, I couldn’t tell him, ‘Hey, I’m here.’ None of that,” she said. “When he passed away, he was without his family.”

Twenty acres around the Washington Monument are filled with flags representing people who have stories a lot like that one. More flags will be added during the memorial’s 17-day run as the death toll continues to rise, said artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.

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SOURCE: Roll Call, By Chris Cioffi

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