Today the sign on the tree bears the number 84, representing the number of Evanstonians who have died due to COVID-19. It states, “In their memory, let’s do our best to keep each other safe and well. Wear a mask; socially distance; wash your hands.”

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The small black vinyl flags flutter in the cold fall air. Anyone driving past the Morton Civic Center on Ridge Avenue too quickly might miss seeing them, mistaking them for a flock of misplaced crows. Someone walking by or biking would almost certainly notice. Like flapping black arm bands of mourning, each one honors someone from Evanston who died from COVID-19.

The number of flags changes whenever there is another reported death in Evanston due to COVID or COVID complications. An Evanston resident who prefers to remain anonymous came up with the idea. Each flag is five inches by eight inches and attached to a thin metal pole 36 inches in length. Near the flags there is a homemade sign with the headline, “REMEMBERING OUR NEIGHBORS,” followed by the grim number in large, bold black type. Underneath the number is the sub-heading in red, “EVANSTONIANS HAVE DIED OF COVID-19”and a message, “IN THEIR MEMORY, LET’S DO OUR BEST TO KEEP ONE ANOTHER SAFE AND WELL,” with the pandemic mantra, “Wear a mask. Socially distance. Wash your hands.”

The flags also call attention to the families and loved ones of the deceased. Locally, the numbers are so significant and the damage so vast, that it is easy for the impact of an individual death to get lost in the bigger picture. Each flag is a reminder that, whether or not the name is known, each life lost was precious, loved and valued. It is a lawn of grief and sadness.

The countries that have done the best in beating back the virus have at least three things in common: strong leadership, a belief in science, and shared sense of community and values. People understand that the changes sought in individual behavior are to affect and influence the common good: more “we” and less “me.’”

One of the profound tragedies of this pandemic is that much of the death in the United States was unnecessary. The best ways to combat the virus are free or inexpensive, do not require special skills, and can be done with little effort.

One mumbles the triad like a sacred talisman, “Wash your hands. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Stay at least six feet apart from others,” hoping to change the outcome, hoping for no more black flags.