Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg stands among thousands of white flags planted in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington. Firstenberg’s temporary art installation is called “In America, How Could This Happen.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Patrick Semansky

Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg stands among thousands of white flags planted in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington. Firstenberg’s temporary art installation is called “In America, How Could This Happen.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Patrick Semansky

COVID-19 crisis cascading in U.S. as presidential election drama recedes

New cases and hospitalizations are setting daily records across the United States

Every day, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg joins the countless ranks of U.S. commuters still making their way to work in the national capital.

In the city where she once worked as a Senate aide, however, Firstenberg’s current job is more of an artist’s odyssey: an open-air installation that pays silent, wind-whipped tribute to the American victims of COVID-19.

Blocks from her former workplace on Capitol Hill, the sculptor and visual artist tends daily to a field of tiny white flags — 247,356 of them, at last count — and a billboard that displays a running tally of the pandemic’s death toll.

Nine months into the crisis, Firstenberg is as busy as she’s ever been.

“When we update the numbers, that’s the worst time of the day for me, because that makes it real,” she says, a fierce squall snapping the flags at her feet.

“It goes through my mind: ‘How many more flags do I have to buy? How many more deaths are going to happen? When is someone going to take charge and really do something on a serious national level?’”

READ MORE: Donald Trump on Elections Canada’s disavowal of voting machines: ‘THIS SAYS IT ALL’

In a year of firsts, just as an embattled electorate hopes against hope for a break in the political tumult, COVID-19 is again rattling America’s windows.

New cases and hospitalizations are setting daily records across the United States, blowing past levels reached in the spring. Mayors and governors are imposing fresh restrictions on bars, restaurants and fitness centres.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, one in every 378 Americans tested positive last week. Cases were up 41 per cent, while hospitalizations push the health-care system to the breaking point. The seven-day average death toll is now more than 1,000 a day.

“Hospitalizations have broken the previous national record and are rising very quickly in every U.S. region, something we’ve never seen before,” the project’s organizers wrote in their weekly blog.

“In fact, hospitalizations are now rising more quickly than we’ve ever seen, outside of a brief period in late March. The past three days have seen increases larger than any single day since mid-April.”

The state of the crisis in both the U.S. and Canada suggests the restrictions on non-essential travel between the two countries, currently set to expire Friday, won’t be going away anytime soon.

“I don’t anticipate that we’re going to see any major changes at the next rollover,” Canada’s U.S. ambassador Kirsten Hillman said in an interview last week.

“We are always monitoring to make sure that the policy is operating as it’s intended to, and it is.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a stark warning Tuesday to any Canadians contemplating an annual trip to warmer climes: think again.

“All Canadians should avoid international travel,” he said. “The pandemic continues to cause significant challenges around the world, including in the southern United States, and people are safest when they stay home in Canada.”

Just a week out from the Thanksgiving holiday and the country’s busiest travel season, U.S. health officials are pleading with people to take the threat seriously.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s pre-eminent infectious-disease expert, acknowledged Tuesday that another national shutdown is not in the cards.

“We need to intensify common, easy-to-do public health measures that are not shutting down the country, not shutting down the economy,” Fauci told CNN — measures that include wearing face masks, avoiding groups and washing hands.

And he warned that recent good news in the race to produce a vaccine — clinical trials by both Moderna and Pfizer are showing positive results in more than 90 per cent of cases — shouldn’t lead to complacency.

“A vaccine should not have you then make a decision, ‘Well, we’re going to have a vaccine so we don’t have to do anything else,’” he said.

“No. The fact that we have a vaccine coming means we should double down and hang in there because help is on the way.”

Help for president-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, is most definitely not coming from the White House.

U.S. President Donald Trump, still fixated on his conspiracy-minded effort to undermine the results of the Nov. 3 election, is stonewalling his successor’s efforts to prepare for power and put a vaccine-deployment strategy in place.

“More people may die if we don’t co-ordinate,” Biden warned Monday.

Firstenberg, for one, is bracing for just that.

Her original order of 250,000 flags is nearly tapped out; she’s ordered some 20,000 more. She’s also running out of places to put them.

Her fiercest hope is that the project — “In America,” it’s officially called — will prompt people to rethink their values.

“Some of us want to wrap ourselves in the American flag, and just demand our individual rights above all else. But in reality, seeing what happens, maybe it’s time to rethink that,” Firstenberg said.

“If we don’t rethink things, we’ll continue to be the greatest — but in a way that we don’t want.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusDonald TrumpJoe BidenUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two teens were sent to hospital after being stabbed Saturday evening. (Shane MacKichan photo)
Two teens stabbed in Abbotsford

20-year-old man has been detained

The annual Make a Difference Sale in Abbotsford is moving online for 2021. (File photo)
Make a Difference Sale in Abbotsford goes virtual for 2021

Annual auction raises money for world hunger through Canadian Foodgrains Bank

The Bug Girl, written by seven-year-old Sophia Spencer, is being given to 500 B.C. classrooms as part of Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month. (Submitted photos)
Reading challenges part of Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month

Abbotsford-based BC Agriculture in the Classroom participates in 10th annual event

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Most Read