"I just felt as though someone had to do something to make a statement that with all these people dying, we had to value each of these lives as well," said artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg

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Washington Mall white flags
In America: Remember
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

A powerful new art installation is commemorating the staggering number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

As of Friday, at least 670,034 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. To symbolize the loss, over 600,000 flags have been placed on the National Mall for artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's In America: Remember.

In addition to providing a visual representation of the lives lost to the virus, the flags will also hold personalized messages from loved ones — which can be left in person or online through a website for the installation. 

"So many of these deaths happened in isolation without acknowledgment," Firstenberg, 62, told NPR. "When I had an opportunity to bring it to the National Mall, even though it's an immensely greater task, there was no hesitation. I knew I needed to do it."

Washington Mall white flags
In America: Remember
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

Firstenberg, who previously created a smaller version of the installation last year near RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., told NPR that she first got the idea after listening to comments Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made last March. During an interview at the time, he argued that some Americans should risk going to work in order to prevent an economic slowdown, which he believed outweighed the health risks of the pandemic.

"That really disturbed me," Firstenberg told NPR. "I just felt as though someone had to do something to make a statement that with all these people dying, we had to value each of these lives as well."

Washington Mall white flags
In America: Remember
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

Before the exhibit officially opened to the public on Thursday, one family member reflected on how moving it was to see their father being honored.

"One of those flags represents my father who died from #Covid 11 months ago. I wasn't expecting to be so emotional seeing this but here I am, in tears," read a social media post shared on the National Mall's account. "Please, never, ever forget them."

In America: Remember will be on display from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3.

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