As Northeast Tennessee’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) death toll rose, Marat Jean Moore decided she wanted to do something to honor those who lost their battle with a virus that’s killed nearly 400 people in the region.

“I was watching the numbers just go up so sharply, and reading the growing number of obituaries in the paper and I felt really numbed by the numbers and helpless and I felt fearful,” Moore said.

“And I said I want to do something, I want to do something, and I thought, ‘we have this stretch of land and a lot of traffic, maybe there’s a way to do a community expression of the type of losses we’re experiencing in our region and make it more real.

“I wanted to make it more real,” Moore added.

And so Moore set out to do just that — planting hundreds of brightly colored flags near her home to memorialize those who died and a sign reading “Our Neighbors Lost to COVID-19,” along with the number of deaths which she updates every morning.

Another sign denotes the strip of land on Spring Street in Jonesborough as the “NE Tennessee COVID-19 Memorial.”

Moore said the memorial was inspired by a similar project in Washington, D.C., where artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg placed more than 200,000 flags to honor those who have died from the virus nationwide. Moore said she reached out to Firstenberg about the idea, which the artist supported.

Unlike Firstenberg, however, Moore opted for colorful flags “because every person is unique, and every human life — everybody — is vibrant in their own way.” Moore did say she will add a row of white flags to honor health care workers as well, and called on the community to be a “defensive line” for them.

“Those nurses and others fought for every single life, and some of them have seen a lot of death,” Moore said

“I think, for me, the community should be a defensive line — not only for ourselves, not only for those we love, but for those nurses and doctors and other health care workers who are the ones who have an impossible task, a traumatic situation.

“If we defend and try to protect them, then our hospitals won’t be so overrun.”

The memorial itself came together rather quickly, in about two weeks, with the first flags being planted over the weekend and the signs installed on Monday. Moore said her goal was to finish the project by Thanksgiving to “let those families know that we want to honor and recognize every single one of their loved ones.”

Moore said she hopes the memorial becomes a a place of healing, remembrance and prayer for those who drive by the display, adding that the process of placing the flags has been emotional and that the community has a sacred responsibility to care for one another.

“It is a huge loss and an unfolding tragedy,” Moore said.

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