More than 8,000 red and black flags marked with a silhouette lined the edge of Chesterley Park Tuesday evening.
Each red flag represented a Yakima County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 from mid-March to a few weeks ago, when the materials were ordered. The black flags clustered in one group represented those who had died of the virus.
Because the virus spreads so quickly, the flags don’t represent current totals, said Yakima Health District spokeswoman Lilian Bravo.
The display is an effort to draw attention to the people infected and killed by the coronavirus, said Leola Reeves, who proposed the field of flags.
“What I want is for people to understand how many people are honestly affected by this,” she said.
Many people have been stuck on data, she said. But behind each case is a person. On top of that, there are friends and family members who have experienced the toll of a loved one battling the virus.
For Reeves, that was her 70-year-old stepfather, whose experience she spoke about in a health district briefing in early June. After testing positive for the virus, he seemed to be doing well. Then his vitals and oxygen dropped suddenly.
While her stepdad survived COVID-19, she said he has permanent lung damage that requires an oxygen machine and he has already battled several subsequent cases of pneumonia.
Others she met through a Facebook page she created to show support for those diagnosed with COVID-19 and their families, “I love someone with COVID-19,” continue to struggle with repercussions of the illness as well.
Reeves wants people to understand that hard but often unseen reality. She hopes the flags will help.
Recent data shows progress in the county’s fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.
A survey last weekend by the Yakima Health District showed that about 95% of people continue to wear masks in public, said Bravo — an improvement that has remained steady since a recent state mandate for them to be worn in public. By contrast, just 35% were wearing masks in a late-May survey.
What’s more, the number of new cases each day has fallen. While triple-digit increases were common in Yakima a month ago, more recent weeks have had new cases below 100 most days. On Tuesday, 83 new cases of the virus were confirmed, including one death. That brought the total number of cases to 9,693. Of those, 7,462 have recovered.
The death toll is now 180.
Still, the number of flags ordered a few weeks ago isn’t big enough to represent the total impact of the pandemic on Yakima County — something that shows how quickly COVID-19 continues to grow, said Bravo.
“We want to celebrate the fact that we’re doing better, but we have to keep in mind, we do need to stay vigilant and stay aware of what our situation is so that we don’t get to the point where we continue to see spikes in COVID in our community,” said Bravo.
“We’re still not in the clear. We’re still in a dangerous situation. We still have a ton of people who have been impacted by COVID-19. While we are seeing more and more people that are recovering, we still have a couple thousand that are still infected currently with COVID-19.”
Bravo said the health district wanted to support Reeves’ vision to represent the lives of the people impacted by the virus. It’s not just about deaths, she noted, but also quality of life of those for those who survive.
The Yakima Health District received funds from the state Department of Health to supply the flags and signs that explain the installation in Spanish and English, and local companies produced the materials.
“Even if it only changes a couple people’s minds, that could change a couple people’s lives — save a couple people’s lives,” Reeves said.