“If you look right here, she only has room for another 5,000 to 10,000 flags on the 22 acres. It’s a sad time to close, but it’s the end of the installation. The number (of the COVID deaths) is just uncalculable, and it’s so sad,” said Doug.
According to Doug, his wife first came up with the idea in August 2020, in large part to respond to Republican Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick who suggested in March 2020 that elderly Americans could be willing to succumb to the virus in order to preserve the U.S. economy.
“She felt that she had to do two things: One, to help people understand the magnitude of the number (of the COVID deaths.) Two, she’s been a long-time hospice volunteer and she wanted people to also understand each life mattered,” said Doug. “That came her idea of planting a sea of white flags, but having one flag for every death, so that each person was being honored.”
Suzanne started planning in detail for the National Mall installation in late spring and early summer this year. At that point, the COVID-19 deaths were going down thanks to wide-scale vaccinations.
“We’re losing 100 to 150 people a day. So her original expectation was at the end of the installation, there would be no more than 610,000 to 620,000,” said Doug.
But Suzanne had reordered twice the number of the white flags as the U.S. COVID-19 death toll began to increase recently, surpassing the grim milestone of 700,000 on Friday night as the Delta variant drove a brutal surge across the weary nation.
“One of our hopes is that this installation will bring people together and help heal the divide, such that we all everybody cares about each other. And if we do, then there’s hope and then we work together. And We’re better at solving our problems than arguing about them,” he said.
The United States “has changed,” Doug lamented. “I mean there’s a lot of division,” he noted.
“My wife and I talk about social media does a lot of good, but I think it also helps divide us. We seem to be divided on matters that we shouldn’t be arguing about. And it’s sad,” he said. “We’re allowed to disagree. That’s about America. But hopefully on the important things we come together as a country.”
“And that’s one of her biggest wishes out of this Installation. That is it’ll help people think about coming together to really addressing big challenges and make the country better,” said Doug.
Many of those deaths could have been avoidable had the COVID-19 vaccine been taken, said the White House’s top medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, on ABC on Sunday.
“If you look at the people who get hospitalized, and the people who die, it is overwhelmingly weighted towards the people who are unvaccinated,” said Fauci.
The most important reason behind the U.S. botched response to the pandemic is “the influence of the (Donald) Trump presidency, when there was a long sequence of policy and communication failures and a refusal to use the resources of the federal government to control the spread,” Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua.
Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, agreed. He said that one of the reasons behind the high U.S. death toll is the mixed messages that were being sent out all through last year.
“Public health officials were making recommendations about social distancing, masking, and so on, but these were simultaneously being undercut by Donald Trump and many in his administration,” said Galdieri.
(Xinhua correspondent Matthew Rusling contributed to the story.)