NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Thousands of homemade stars covered a North Nashville lot on Wednesday after a Nashville organization created a temporary memorial for Tennesseans killed by COVID-19.
The group Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) was behind the effort, and said it was part of a push for stronger coronavirus regulations, including a statewide mask mandate. The memorial featured thousands of stars, each representing a Tennessean who died of the virus.
"It's so hard to conceptualize 6,500 and we wanted to make it visual, and when you see all of these stars and walk through all of these stars, it's impossible not to realize these are people," NOAH's Ron Heady said. "There are ones with pictures, there are ones that just have a label on them... one of them says papa, those things they grab your heart."
"We think it could have been curtailed if the governor had taken the initiative to do a mask mandate for the state of Tennessee," Rev. Edward Thompson said. Thompson, who is the chair of NOAH, said his brother died of COVID-19 earlier this year. "My brother Charles Thompson also died on October 17 because of COVID-19."
Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Bill Lee has resisted calls to issue a statewide mask mandate, even as cases climbed. In an address earlier this month, Lee defended the decision to leave mandates up to local leaders.
"Many think a statewide mandate would improve mask-wearing, many think it would have the opposite effect," Lee said in the speech. "This has been a heavily politicized issue."
Throughout the pandemic, many Tennessee doctors and health care groups have urged Lee to institute a mask mandate to limit the spread of the virus.
NOAH, which is a faith-based organization, is also calling for more spending to help families impacted by the pandemic. NOAH is pushing for state leaders to use some of Tennessee's surplus TANF funds to help people facing eviction. Tennessee currently has a surplus of $730 million in its TANF fund, money that is meant to help the poor.