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Memorializing The Deaths Of More Than 500,000 Americans Lost To COVID-19

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: Chris Duncan, whose 75 year old mother Constance died from COVID on her birthday, photographs a COVID Memorial Project installation of 20,000 American flags on the National Mall as the United States crosses the 200,000 lives lost in the COVID-19 pandemic September 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. The flags are displayed on the grounds of the Washington Monument facing the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is on track to pass a number next week that once seemed unthinkable: Half a million people in this country dead from the coronavirus.

And while the pandemic isn't over yet, and the death toll keeps climbing, artists in every medium have already been thinking about how our country will pay tribute to those we lost.

Poets, muralists, and architects all have visions of what a COVID-19 memorial could be. Many of these ideas are about more than just honoring those we've lost to the pandemic. Artists are also thinking about the conditions in society that brought us here.

Tracy K. Smith, a former U.S. poet laureate, has already written one poem honoring transit workers in New York who died of the disease. Smith says she wants to see a COVID-19 memorial that has a broader mission, that it needs to invite people in to bridge a divide.

Paul Farber runs Monument Lab, an organization that works with cities and states that want to build new monuments. He says he wants to see a COVID-19 monument that is collective experience and evolves over time. He also wants it to serve as a bridge to understanding.

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