North Austin man plants flags as Texan COVID-19 deaths rise above 30K

Kacey Bowen

AUSTIN, Texas – More than 30,000 Texans have lost their lives to COVID-19.

For Shane Reilly, he’s been documenting that number in his front yard in North Austin. Reilly is an artist and since May, has been planting flags in his yard for every death in Texas due to COVID-19.

Living near a walking trail, he said when the city was first shut down, he still saw people coming by in large groups and with those outside their household. Reilly said he wanted to show people that this virus is real and can have a devastating impact. 

RELATED: Austin artist plants over 15,000 flags in his yard for Texan COVID-19 deaths

Austin artist plants over 15,000 flags in his yard for Texan COVID-19 deaths

North Austin artist Shane Reilly started this display in May when the Texas virus death toll was just under 1,000. Now he’s hitting an unfortunate milestone. 

“I thought we should put a visual up just to show this is how many people have died, Reilly said. “This is a real thing, and each one of these flags represent a person.”

Even with a COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. has surpassed 2 million deaths. Texas is averaging more than 18,000 new cases daily, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, and ICU’s across Texas cannot take much more of the surge. Here in Travis County, an alternative care site has been activated at the Austin Convention Center to house patients as numbers continue to spike.

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“Especially with over 32 thousand people, everybody knows somebody that has been affected,” said Reilly. Since starting in May, Reilly said that his yard has become a memorial. “This has become cathartic for people.”

While he said he didn’t think this idea would have lasted this long, he said the impact it has on people is what matters most, and what keeps him going. 

RELATED: “Constant state of stress”: Healthcare workers talk about current conditions in hospitals

North Austin man plants one flag in his yard for every Texan life lost to COVID-19

He says it started off as a way to show his neighbors that real Texans are dying because of this virus and they should take the steps to help slow the spread.

“Each one of these family members have reached out to me,” Reilly said. “I get unsigned letters dropped in my mailbox saying thank you, or that’s my mom in that yard. I’m just a caretaker for this now.”

RELATED: Over 15,000 flags in Austin yard for every Texan life lost to COVID-19

He said he would like to see something at a larger scale, not just in his front yard. 

Over 15,000 flags in Austin yard for every Texan life lost to COVID-19

Texas recorded 15,229 deaths from COVID-19 as of September 23, as the US passed 201,000 deaths in total.

“I would love there to be a more permanent memorial not just for Texas,” he said. “But for the whole U.S.”

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