20,000 empty chairs set up outside White House on COVID-19 Remembrance Day

Nearly 210,000 lives have been lost to the coronavirus in the United States, and on Sunday, the first National COVID-19 Remembrance Day, a powerful installation was set up outside the White House to represent the toll the pandemic has taken on the nation. Twenty-thousand empty chairs were lined up on the Ellipse, a large lawn outside of the White House. Each one stands for 10 lives lost to COVID-19.

The organization COVID Survivors for Change set up the chairs and also live-streamed a program of “advocacy, art and real people’s stories.” The event was hosted by Grammy Award-winner and former U.S. Ambassador for Health Dionne Warwick, CBS affiliate WUSA reports.

Speakers included family members of those who have died from COVID-19, as well as survivors and frontline workers. 

20,000 Empty Chairs Placed Near White House To Remember 200,000 Lives Lost To COVID-19
20,000 empty chairs were set up outside the White House on Oct. 4, 2020, each representing 10 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

TASOS KATOPODIS / Getty Images


One of the speakers was Konah Bernard, whose mother, Dr. Maima Darbah Fahnbulleh, died from COVID-19 after contracting the virus in a nursing home in May, WUSA reports.

Bernard also shared her 73-year-old mother’s story with WUSA’s Jess Arnold, and described the day she had to say goodbye to her mom over Zoom. “I remember that dreadful morning,” Bernard said. “Time just stopped.”

Dr. Fahnbulleh, who was born in Liberia, “was a very vibrant person,” Bernard said. She received her Ph.D. in social work from Howard University, and had masters degrees in social work and public health, WUSA reported. 

“She spent most of her life advocating for people with disabilities, speaking for the disenfranchised and the people who didn’t really have a voice,” her daughter said.

The installation of 20,000 empty chairs was meant to serve as a wake-up call to the White House, WUSA reports. The event organizers and speakers like Bernard want the government to develop a national plan for safety and recovery. 

20,000 Empty Chairs Placed Near White House To Remember 200,000 Lives Lost To COVID-19
Empty chairs representing the 200,000 lives lost due to the coronavirus pandemic are set up for National COVID-19 Remembrance Day on the Ellipse behind the White House on October 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

TASOS KATOPODIS / Getty Images


“I think education and consistency is the main thing,” Bernard said. 

CBS News has reached out to COVID Survivors for Change for more information and is awaiting response. 

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