Thousands of empty chairs placed outside White House to represent US coronavirus deaths
Demonstrators set up 20,000 empty chairs as part of an art installation on the lawn across from the White House on Sunday, representing about 10% of the more than 200,000 Americans who have died after contracting the coronavirus.
COVID Survivors for Change, a group of survivors and the families of those who died from the novel virus, said they organized the sea of chairs and a remembrance ceremony to mourn their loss before news broke that President Trump himself tested positive with COVID-19 and was briefly hospitalized.
“I want the president and all with COVID to be well, but I also have to place responsibility upon the president and other leaders who have not taken this seriously,” said Pastor William H. Lamar IV, an opening speaker at the event, according to WJLA. “There is blood on the hands of those who refuse to do what is necessary to protect human beings.”
The socially distanced event was livestreamed from The Ellipse lawn, where one chair for every 10 people who died in the U.S. from COVID-19 was set up by volunteers within view of the White House.
The nearly three-hour video included the names and photos of many of those who died. Speakers discussed their shared experiences with COVID-19, including balancing child care while working as first responders and other economic struggles coupled with the disease itself. Some spoke of the experience of being put on a respirator, while others who lost relatives wondered aloud whether they were the ones to bring the virus with them into their homes.
Trump received criticism for hosting another event last week in the White House Rose Garden to honor Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Though attendees were first tested for COVID-19 and were required to provide contact information, photos from the event notably lacked masks and social distancing.
It remains unclear how Trump contracted COVID-19 but several people who attended the event have since tested positive, including former counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, and Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis.
Meanwhile, the event Sunday was intended to allow the families of those who died from COVID-19 to come together and grieve publicly for the first time, as many funeral services were banned amid lockdown measures at the onset of the pandemic in March.
Speaking alone from a stage, Dionne Warwick, an American singer appointed by President Reagan as an honorary ambassador of health to help with public outreach during the AIDS epidemic, pointed out how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black communities.