CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (AP) – Ohio has planted a memorial grove of native trees to remember those who have died from COVID-19, and state governors and lawmakers across the country are considering their own ways to mark the virus’s toll .
Temporary memorials have sprung up across the United States – 250,000 white flags at RFK Stadium in the nation’s capital, a hand-carved flower garden in Florida, chains of origami cranes in Los Angeles.
The process of creating more lasting memories that honor the more than 600,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus, however, is onerous compared to past commemorative campaigns due to politics.
Last year, a bill starting a national COVID-19 memorial process died in Congress as the Trump administration sought to minimize the ravages of the pandemic.
States are a good place to start with monuments given the complexity of remembering the early management of the disease by the federal government, said James Young, founding director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the ‘University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
“We not only remember the victims, but we end up remembering a sort of indifference or even neglect from the US administration, malignant neglect, the disease itself, let alone the victims,” did he declare.
Non-pandemic monuments – such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and the National September 11 Memorial in New York City – are the result of negotiations among various stakeholders ready to advance the controversy for debate common narratives, said Nancy Bristow, professor of history at the University of Puget Sound.
A national COVID-19 memorial will not be so clear, she said.
“The problem and the strength of memorials is that they tell the story we want to tell, and they may have nothing to do with learning about the past or even remembering the complexity. of what we’ve been through, ”Bristow said. “Commemoration and commemoration are not a question of nuance. “
For governors who can stake their political fortunes on the success of their response to the virus, however, the power to tell their own stories could be essential.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, were among the first to catch the tale of the virus with their commemorative proposals earlier this year.
Earlier this month, Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear announced that a panel of state government and local art community experts had selected 11 artists to submit design proposals for the memorial. standing in that state after a fundraising campaign this spring. A legislator in a state of Maine proposed legislation to do the same.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Memorial Grove that DeWine dedicated in April in a state park near Chillicothe, in southern Ohio, included among its native trees the white oak, which can live 400 years.
“Maybe someone will come here and talk about their grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother who went through the pandemic,” DeWine said at the event. “Maybe a family member died, maybe someone in their family was a nurse or a doctor, someone who was there to make a difference for others. We must not forget the sacrifices that have been made.
Cuomo is regrouping after plans for a concrete state memorial to essential Battery Park workers faced outcry from neighbors upset over the resulting loss of green space. He said workers must be recalled for their worth.
“They saved the lives of New Yorkers,” he said when announcing the panel to lead the project in April. “COVID was a war and they were war heroes. They gave their lives in the midst of this war to save others.
DeWine and Cuomo model their commemorative language around their contrasting leadership styles, Young said.
“I think DeWine saw himself as some kind of pater familias trying to take care of everyone, and Cuomo saw himself or introduced himself as a general going to war with the virus,” Young said.
Bristow said that the war metaphor was also used with the deadly flu epidemic of 1918, which occurred during a real war – World War I – and that this confusion ultimately submerged all memory of the deadly disease, who never had a national memorial.
“The war was a heroic tale, the war was a success, the war was an expression of American exceptionalism and our greatness, this is how Americans wanted and want to see themselves,” she said. “And the pandemic just didn’t offer that kind of scenario. “
COVID-19 memorials also raise practical questions.
For example, listing victims by name on a national memorial, as monuments sometimes do, could be a tricky business.
In response to concerns about deaths wrongly attributed to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in March that found only about 5% of death certificates that listed COVID-19 as the cause listing it. exclusively. Instead, it was often associated with other contributing issues, including exacerbation of illnesses such as diabetes and concurrent conditions such as pneumonia.
As these details were worked out, some smaller permanent memorials – a statue to sanitation workers in New York City, murals in Detroit, and a cemetery sculpture in Dover, Delaware, for example – are already in place.
Sincere but fleeting tributes are also plentiful, including ringing bells, vigils, and websites.
Kristin Urquiza, co-founder and co-executive director of the organization Marked by COVID, said she is laying the groundwork for a push later this year for a permanent national memorial.
Urquiza drew attention last year to a speech she gave at the Democratic National Convention, blaming Trump’s lack of leadership for his father’s death from COVID-19, but she said that the project was non-partisan and unifying officials on both sides.
“A physical memorial would be a place to recognize our grief,” she said. “A place from which we can come together, to see ourselves as human beings, as Americans, as people, who have been through this together. “
U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat from New York, also reintroduced the bill that would launch a national COVID-19 commemorative process.
Espaillat said the legislation contemplates locating the memorial in the Bronx, one of the earliest COVID-19 hotspots. He refrained from considering whether the Trump administration’s viral policies played a role in the demise of his previous bill. But he said any memorial must address some uncomfortable truths revealed by the pandemic.
“As we continue our efforts to establish this national memorial, we must consider and reflect on the serious racial disparities that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in health systems that are making black and brown communities more susceptible,” he said. in a press release.
Massachusetts photographer Keith Jacobs died of COVID-19 in April 2020, just weeks after the start of the pandemic, he was just top of the list to receive a kidney transplant.
His widow, Marcy Jacobs, 64, of Stoughton, Mass., Said she feared her late husband and other pandemic victims would be forgotten as the disease subsides and people who do not have lost loved one move on.
“Don’t expect us to move forward without giving ourselves a place to cry,” she said, remembering her husband as being kind, uncomplaining and straightforward. “Is it a stone for everyone?” I do not know. “
The memory of the day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration for COVID-19 victims was pleasant, she said, but more is needed.
“What is the country going to do? she said.
Associated Press editors Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; John Seewer in Toledo; and Mark Pratt in Boston; and photographer Elise Amendola of Boston contributed to this report.