With the White House in the background, 20,000 chairs, each representing 10 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the US are lined up on the Ellipse for a remembrance event Sunday

Coronavirus: Memorial held outside White House in honour of more than 200,000 Americans killed by Covid

Coronavirus: Memorial held outside White House in honour of more than 200,000 Americans killed by Covid

Coronavirus: Memorial held outside White House in honour of more than 200,000 Americans killed by Covid


early five months after his father’s death, Brian Walter still cannot shake the feeling that he might’ve caused it.

As a New York City subway worker, Mr Walter was exempt from the stay-home mandate that he hoped would keep others in his family safe. He became the designated shopper for his parents and sanitised everything he brought into their home.

Despite all their precautions, Mr Walter and his father, John, both contracted the novel coronavirus, and after 19 days in the hospital, John Walter died on 10 May.

On Sunday, Brian Walter was one of nearly two dozen people directly affected by the coronavirus to mourn the more than 200,000 American who have been killed by Covid-19 and push for a national plan for recovery.

They gathered on the grassy Ellipse just south of the White House and in proximity to the Rose Garden, where those attending Donald Trump‘s announcement of his Supreme Court nominee flouted recommendations on wearing masks and social distancing. Mr Trump and at least eight other people who attended the 26 September ceremony have since tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19.

“It’s very important we get the message across that this is not a hoax or a conspiracy or a fake illness,” Mr Walter said. “Just because it hasn’t affected you personally doesn’t mean it’s not real. The events of last weekend prove that you can be isolated for a while, but if you make one wrong move, the virus could get you.”

Mr Walter looked at 20,000 empty black chairs that had been placed on the Ellipse over the weekend, each representing 10 people in the United States who have died of Covid-19. The US coronavirus death toll soared past 200,000 last month – and Covid Survivors for Change, a network aimed at helping those affected by the virus locate support groups and other resources, declared on Sunday a national day of remembrance.

The group recruited local volunteers to set up the installation. They began removing the chairs after the event on Sunday.

Those who spoke reflected the myriad ways the pandemic has shaken people’s lives. A Virginia teacher who worried for the health of her students. A black entrepreneur who is struggling to get by. An emergency room nurse who was hospitalised with the virus and lost her brother to Covid-19 weeks later.

While each speaker’s story was different, the message was the same: the pandemic is far from over, and a national strategy with cohesive leadership is the only way to prevent another 200,000 deaths.

Members of the Resistance Revival Chorus from New York wipe away tears while listening to people talk about their loved ones who have died of the coronavirus(Katherine Frey for Washington Post)

“When I watched that Rose Garden event I was horrified. I saw children and adults and elderly people all unmasked and not socially distanced, against all recommendations we have,” said Dara Kass, an emergency medicine physician and associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Centre.

“When I think of the 200,000 who have died, and all the people who will be infected because of how his administration behaved, it continues to disappoint me not only as a doctor, but as an American,” she said.

Ms Kass, who spoke on Sunday, said she was especially concerned about those who went to the Rose Garden ceremony and did not immediately self-quarantine, even after it became apparent that someone in attendance was infected. Attorney general William Barr decided not to self-quarantine even though he was exposed at the event, The New York Times reported. Kellyanne Conway, former senior adviser to the president, tweeted that she would go into self-isolation on Friday night, after she learned that had she tested positive for the virus.

“How many people did she infect in the time she found out someone was infectious near her?” Ms Kass asked. “How many people will be infected by those actions that day, and how many people will we never know about?”

Those who spoke at the remembrance were joined by faith leaders, healthcare professionals and other frontline workers affected by the pandemic. They were led by Grammy-winning singer Dionne Warwick, a former US ambassador for health who played a key role in combating the Aids crisis.

Twenty-thousand chairs, each representing 10 deaths in the US, are lined up for the event(Katherine Frey for Washington Post)

“The loss of lives has grown daily, leaving us all directly or indirectly affected by this disease,” Ms Warwick told the group. “It takes all of us to raise our voices – we know we can’t always rely on the folks in charge to hear us unless we say it loudly and clearly.”

Ms Warwick also touched on the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has had on people of colour, and she praised frontline and essential workers “who have endured so much to keep us fed, housed and educated”. She added: “We have not done enough to honour those sacrifices, and our country has not given them what they need to help and keep us going.”

Concerns about the coronavirus were amplified further in the Washington region on Friday when health officials in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia reported the highest single-day number of cases since 18 September.

Aarion Brown, a US Postal Service worker, said he gets frustrated thinking about how the government prepared during the onset of the virus.

Mr Brown said the DC building where he works has had six confirmed coronavirus cases in the past month and as a representative for his union, he lamented that more than six months into the pandemic, he still cannot assure his colleagues that it’s safe for them to come to work.

Feeling more vulnerable than ever, Mr Brown called on US leaders to respond to the crisis with more accurate testing, improved contact tracing protocols and “leaders who do not hide the truth from the American people”.

Mr Brown said: “Trump wasn’t doing enough to prepare people. He knew it was real, but downplayed it so people wouldn’t panic. With Trump in the hospital, it shows he didn’t take it seriously. If he didn’t take it seriously, how can we expect him to lead?”

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