BISMARCK — Carl Young says North Dakota is no longer "North Dakota nice" in the wake of COVID-19. He said it shocks him when people downplay the disease or have little empathy for others battling it.
His feelings came to a head when his mother died from COVID-19 on Oct. 4, and he said he was tired of the way some people were not taking the virus seriously.
“My mom isn’t an underlying condition, and she’s not a little black circle on a map,” Young said.
Young planted the flags in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on Monday, Oct. 26. He said the goal of the memorial is to pay tribute to those who have died due to COVID-19, grab the attention of state officials about the pandemic's severity and bring attention to health care workers' mental health.
As of Monday, North Dakota recorded 461 COVID-19 deaths.
“I think if people can see exactly how big of a number we’re talking about in a visual representation, that has more of an impact than the governor saying ‘you need to be nice and wear a mask,’” Young said.
Young and fellow Bismarck resident Krisanna Peterson planted 231 flags on Monday, each representing two North Dakota residents who died as a result of COVID-19. Young said he will continue adding flags into the ground until Nov. 2 as the state reports more daily deaths.
He said he is only able to leave the flags standing for about a week and a half, per an agreement with the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget.
By putting up the memorial, he hopes to provide Gov. Doug Burgum with a visual representation of the effect COVID-19 is having on North Dakotans. The memorial sits about 100 yards away from the governor's residence.
"These are humans, not statistics," Young said.
Young originally planned to have one flag represent each person who died, but he ran out of funding.
After his mother's death, Young created the North Dakota COVID Memorial Project in an effort to bring people together who have lost loved ones from COVID-19.
Young said he received requests to create similar memorials in other North Dakota cities.
He hopes to build a similar memorial in Fargo sometime before Thanksgiving, he said, and maybe even take the memorial project out of state if the project garners enough attention.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.