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Moment of silence held in front of new Billings COVID-19 memorial

Honors Yellowstone County residents lost to virus
Riverstone COVID memorial
Posted at 12:33 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 15:14:12-05

BILLINGS — A sobering reminder sits on a small patch of grass outside of the RiverStone Health campus in Billings — 437 blue flags, one for each COVID-19 death in Yellowstone County.

The memorial was set up on a day that was supposed to honor the nation's healthcare workers.

"Today is not only National Public Health Thank You day, but it’s also the Monday before Thanksgiving," said RiverStone Vice President of Communications Barbara Schneeman. "These flags are symbolizing one less chair at the table this year."

Riverstone workers
A Riverstone Health worker bows her head in a moment of silence Monday, Nov. 22, for Yellowstone County residents who have died from COVID-19.

About 20 workers gathered for a moment of silence to remember those lost. Schneeman has had to write a press release for every one of them.

"It doesn’t get any easier," she said. "It actually gets a little sadder each time. There are nearly 450 flags. That’s tremendous. That's a lot of people in our community who are no longer here."

Usually, organizations around the country mark the day for celebration of public health contributors, but Schneeman admits this year is filled with different emotions.

"It is very sad to see deaths continue," she said. "Thanksgiving is such a family holiday. Recognizing that many families will not have loved ones there due to the pandemic is especially hard. It's a time to reflect."

Possibly to reflect on this time last year, which marked Montana’s worst in its battle with the first round of the pandemic. Schneeman fears history might repeat itself.

"I am personally concerned about seeing a rise in cases after the holidays. One thing we've been telling people, if they’re around people who are not vaccinated, or they can't confirm their vaccination status, please mask up. If you’re not feeling well, don’t go to those holiday gatherings, to protect family and friends around you."

She’s not looking forward to the reality of another press release turning into another flag.

Riverstone COVID memorial wide
Riverstone Health workers gather on the campus' front lawn for a moment of silence to honor Yellowstone County residents who have died of COVID-19.