The Quarter-Million Monument
250,000 COVID-19 Deaths in the US
The National Mall in Washington D.C. is proposed to be draped with 250,000 surgical masks to represent a visual of the massive number of COVID-19 deaths in the US in the past 8 months of the coronavirus pandemic. The masks are used to symbolize the controversial inaction by many Americans to wear protective face coverings despite repeated urgings from some officials. The length of the masked garland measures 21 miles long with a mask spaced every 6 inches for a total of 722 crossings over the 1.2 mile long stretch of lawns and reflecting pools between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building steps.
The idea for this monument was born on the day that the US reported 250,000 deaths due to COVID-19. That number was a marker that topped US epidemiologists’ expectations of the worst-case scenario, yet we are experiencing the highest peak of virus transmission so far this year and an end is still not in sight. Currently there have been 263,687 deaths in the last 8 months. That’s more deaths from COVID-19 than estimates of American military deaths during 11 years of battle in the Vietnam war (nationalgeographic.com).
This monument proposes using surgical masks to create a visual representation of the immense number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States—250,000 lives lost—which is an unfathomable number to fully understand. A single mask is used to represent each human life lost in the US while pointing to the controversial actions taken by many to avoid wearing masks in public, a precaution that many experts agree is the most valuable tool we can use to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The collection of masks are strung 6 inches apart across the National Mall adding up to 21 miles in length of masks used to embody the vast extensiveness of a quarter-million American lives lost.
More than twice the number of U.S. service members killed in World War I (npr.org). Just under five times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat during the nine-year-long Vietnam War (nationalgeographic.com). More than eight times the total number of military soldiers who died in the wars of Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, the Spanish-American War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the American Revolution combined (nationalgeographic.com). Before the end of the year, it is estimated that the death toll will rise above 300,000 and surpass the number of US military deaths in World War II (npr.org and nationalgeographic.com)
Many of them never even had a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones.
Some people don’t like talking about it and some people don’t like hearing about it. There’s a certain type of silence about who has contracted the virus and who has died from it. There’s an awkwardness around discussing the pandemic with friends and family members who have conflicting political or religious views. Adding to the problem is pandemic fatigue: As the pandemic continues on, people are getting tired of being vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing, and not gathering with loved ones for celebrations like birthdays and holidays. Many Americans have suffered personal and economic loss from the virus and its corresponding restrictions to close schools, businesses, and indoor activities of all types (npr.org). Many of us are eager for our lives to return to normal.
But the times are not normal and no amount of urging has changed some peoples minds about wearing a mask to protect themselves and others. Some might think that after months of urging and instruction, we would have turned a corner towards recovery, but, in fact, the worst is yet to come.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s latest model, by March 1, 2021, the U.S. may see nearly 439,000 total deaths from COVID-19. But others have calculated two alternative scenarios, depending on the path the country takes. If governmental mandates to limit the spread are eased, the model predicts more deaths: perhaps 587,000 by March 1 (npr.org). But if everyone in the U.S. would wear masks every time they are in public, the number of anticipated casualties by that date drops to about 371,000 (npr.org). That’s still an unfathomable number of lives lost in the United States alone.
With this project, we mourn the loss of so many who have passed this year and those deaths that are, unfortunately, still yet to come.
“As U.S. Reaches 250,000 Deaths From COVID-19, A Long Winter Is Coming.” n.d. NPR.Org. Accessed November 24, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/ coronavirus-live-updates/2020/11/18/935930352/as-u-s-reaches-250-000- deaths-from-covid-19-a-long-winter-is-coming.
“U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Now Surpass Fatalities in the Vietnam War.” 2020. History & Culture. April 28, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ history/2020/04/coronavirus-death-toll-vietnam-war-cvd/.