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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

175 Flags: McLean County Museum of History Remembers Those We've Lost

There are 175 small white flags on the lawn outside the McLean County Museum of History, each representing the life of a county resident lost to COVID-19.

The museum on Friday evening held a brief ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the pandemic’s arrival in McLean County. The institution closed its doors to the public on Friday, March 13, 2020, as the threat of the disease first came into focus.

The first COVID case in the county was announced on March 19, 2020. The first death was reported by the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) on March 22.

One year, thousands of cases, and scores of deaths later, a group of citizens and community leaders gathered to reflect on the lives lost and lessons learned. 

Drawing on submissions from the #12MonthsIn6Words project, Kathleen Kirk composed a poem illustrating the kaleidoscope of emotions McLean County residents have experienced over the past year. Kirk described “calling out in unity from separate places” and the anger, fear, and “bone-deep fatigue” the past year has brought. 

But despite that fatigue, the pandemic has yet to release its grip.

“Even as we speak, there still are patients in our hospitals fighting for their lives,” said Mollie Ward, a Bloomington alderman and director of spiritual care at Carle BroMenn Medical Center. She also is the co-founder of the McLean County Interfaith Alliance and offered a prayer, urging empathy across a wide spectrum of experiences.

“May we who have had the luxury of working from home remember those who still must choose between their health or making their rent. May we who have had the flexibility to care for our children when their schools have closed remember those who have no options. May we who have been restless quarantining at home remember those who have no homes,” she said.

As fear grips our community, Ward prayed, “Let us choose love.” 

MCHD Public Affairs Coordinator Marianne Manko reflected on the losses of the pandemic, but also the progress that has been made. She noted the leaps McLean County has made in testing capability and contact tracing. Lauding the quick development of a vaccine that once seemed so distant, Manko remarked, “My how far we’ve come.” 

Manko said the Illinois National Guard is now assisting MCHD with mass vaccination at both Grossinger Motors Arena and mobile vaccination sites across the county. 

“McLean County Health Department can now administer up to 23,000 vaccines per week,” she told the crowd, adding,  “Now all we need is the vaccine.” 

Manko noted that weekly vaccine supplies are expected to increase. 

To date, MCHD has vaccinated around 60% of the phase 1A and 1B populations. The department expects to expand the vaccine to phase 1B+ “very soon,” Manko said.

And as vaccination opportunities in the county continue to expand, Manko urged residents to learn as much about the vaccine as possible. She asked that people consider acting as “vaccine influencers and ambassadors,” helping loved ones navigate the science and logistics around the shots. And she asked that residents remain vigilant in testing.

And then maybe, Manko said, “One year from today, we can be here celebrating the lives that we saved.”

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