Since 2020, COVID-19 has caused nearly one million deaths in the U.S., and Fairfax County, Virginia, leaders say the collective trauma underscores the importance of a memorial dedicated to the impact of the pandemic in the county.
The coronavirus pandemic has been compared with the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 675,000 Americans. There are few memorials to honor the lives that were lost.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is positioning the county as one of the first localities in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. to build a permanent pandemic remembrance.
The Fairfax County Park Authority recently submitted a memorandum to the board, summarizing project details, including design considerations, the project timeline and next steps, including the memorial’s location.
“At this point, it’s very likely to be in a Fairfax County Park Authority property, at one of our park facilities,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “That’s important to me because the whole point of this is to be a place for personal reflection.”
McKay said he has spoken with people who have lost their loved ones, their businesses and their homes, and the devastation to the community is significant and long-lasting. He also pointed to the mental health trauma that may manifest in years to come.
“No matter how this touched you, either directly or indirectly … we think it’s important to have a place where you can go and quietly reflect on those matters,” McKay said.
In addition to providing a tranquil environment, placing the COVID-19 memorial on county-owned park property also eliminates the cost of acquiring land, which McKay said would be cost-prohibitive for the project.
Over the coming months, Park Authority staff will proceed with site research and analysis to identify a park property that will provide a peaceful, reflective setting that is also highly visible and readily accessible. The project timeline calls for site selection to be completed by September.
One of the biggest unknowns about the memorial is the cost. McKay said that’s because there is no approved design yet.
“Frankly, I don’t want to restrict, at all, the creativity of those who might design this by putting a cost element on it at this point,” McKay said.
The Arts Council in Fairfax County will be integral in the design selection, working with the community through public meetings and a panel of citizen participants, who will provide input and help evaluate designs.
The county has a number of design considerations for the memorial: To serve as a place for community healing; to capture the bravery of front-line health care workers, community heroes, and first responders; and to educate future generations about the magnitude of the pandemic.
“You don’t lose the number of lives that we did and have the type of literal impact on as many people as we have had over as long a period of time, and not hope to have future generations understand how devastating this was and how we managed to get through it,” McKay said.
The county expects to have the final cost estimate, funding options and a design concept by this fall, and a final design and bid documents by spring 2023. Taking into account factors, such as supply chain disruptions, construction is expected to get underway in summer 2023, with a ribbon-cutting in September 2023.