Reilly, an Austin-based artist, told CBS News he started the flag project in May, when he noticed people in his community weren’t practicing COVID-19 measures like social distancing. “Everybody had gone into lockdown, ‘Tiger King’ was big on Netflix. Everybody was sort of treating this like a mandatory vacation. We were all baking sourdough,” he said.
Reilly was fed up with people not taking safety measures seriously – especially since he has a 17-year-old son who is immunocompromised. Reilly wanted to send a simple message to people who were ignoring restrictions and putting others at risk: “Don’t kill my kid.”
So, he bought little flags – red, white and pink – and started filling his yard with them. “Each one of these flags represents a mom or a husband or somebody’s kid that has died, and these are real, individual people,” Reilly said. “I hope that somebody could look at this and say, ‘Okay, here’s something I can do to save a life.'”
He said he adds more flags every other day or so, as the number of deaths in the state continue to climb.
To pay for the project, he started a GoFundMe. “I’ve been leading this charge on my own until now and have gained interest from around the world, reaching thousands of people,” he writes on the fundraising page. “With your help, we can pressure the Texas government to create a state wide memorial to our Mothers and Fathers, our Children, and our Lovers and Friends that we have lost to this tragic pandemic.”
Reilly’s ultimate goal is to move the installation somewhere more public and permanent to memorialize COVID-19 victims. For now, he hopes people who pass by his house are impacted by the flags, and are inspired to follow safety measures. “There’s no excuse to not think it’s real anymore,” he said. “And there’s something you can do.”
As of Thursday, the state of Texas had 1,371,223 coronavirus cases and 24,660 deaths, according to its Department of State Health Services. However, other data from Johns Hopkins puts the number of deaths in the state over 25,000. Reilly’s flags reflect that.
Reilly said he’s now been personally affected by the virus – both his aunt and cousin have tested positive. “She’s got two little kids at home that are afraid they’re going to lose their mom,” he said about his cousin. “What are you going to do when you’re six years old and you think your mom’s dying on you. That should not be common, and it’s becoming that way in this country. It’s scary.”
“I’m just asking people to be heroes. Put a mask on.”