Jennifer Brooks
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Two more hearts went up in the window at Edina City Hall on Friday.

One hundred and thirteen golden hearts, measuring a community's heartbreak.

One heart for every pandemic death in the city. So many hearts, Jasmine Robles from the communications office needed a stepladder to add five more to the death toll last week.

There are no names on the golden hearts. The state Department of Health can tell Edina how many it has lost, but not who.

The hearts started going up late in spring 2020. By then, the virus had killed about 100,000 Americans. Ten of them from Edina.

"When we got to 10 deaths, that struck me as significant," said Jennifer Bennerotte, communications director for the city of Edina, who came up with the idea for a memorial in this south metro suburb. "That's 10 of your friends and neighbors who died of this virus."

It's hard to build a memorial in the middle of a tragedy. But Bennerotte knew other communities had found ways to give shape to their losses. There were ribbons fluttering from trees, online memorial walls, endless rows of empty chairs on the National Mall.

These were tangible reminders the community could look to when people started complaining about masks and vaccines.

A century ago, after the last pandemic, Americans raised memorials in city squares to the 117,000 soldiers who never came home from World War I.

But you won't find many public monuments to the 675,000 American lives lost to influenza.

America was sick of sickness, masks and grief. Those weren't times anyone wanted to remember. So we forgot.

Bennerotte ordered a supply of sturdy paper hearts in bright gold, hoping to hang them around town, where everyone could see. So everyone would remember.

"It's a great visual way to show our community that we've lost some friends and neighbors and to honor those residents who died from this horrible disease," she said.

But not everyone wanted that reminder. The hearts on display at the Southdale Center mall were repeatedly torn down and vandalized until the city removed them last summer.

Another shopping district turned down an offer of a COVID memorial. That wasn't what they wanted customers to see on their way to shop and dine.

But the hearts in the windows at City Hall still stand. Edina Mayor Jim Hovland added the 100th heart around Christmas.

"Each time a resident dies, we hang a gold heart here in their honor," Hovland said in a "Mayor's Minute" video posted on the city Facebook page in late December. "That's right, almost 100 of our friends and neighbors have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. We continue to see high levels of COVID-19 in the community,"

As the omicron variant surged ahead of the holidays, Hovland pleaded with residents to get vaccinated for COVID and flu, to mask up, get tested and think carefully about holiday gatherings.

"Give the gift of a much-needed break to the health care providers who care for us when we are sick or injured, by doing everything you can do personally to stay healthy," he said. "This memorial wall is a reminder of the importance of following these tips."

The only response to the video was a comment accusing the mayor of being biased and spouting propaganda.

Five more hearts went up on the memorial last week. When the city posted the news on its social media accounts, commenters complained. When was "this nonsense" going to stop? Why not plaster hearts on the walls for everyone who died from any cause?

Only a few more paper hearts remain from the original order the city placed in 2020. Bennerotte stands ready to order more, if she must.

COVID-19 has killed more than 900,000 Americans and almost 12,000 Minnesotans. If those numbers start to lose their sting, you can visit the Star Tribune's pandemic obituaries online to see the names and faces behind the statistics.

Mel Reeves, journalist and civil rights activist. Jerry Relph, state senator. Yussur Barkhad, cook at the Afro Deli. Walter Littman, mathematician. Adwina Jackson Baptiste, poet. Bob McDonald, the basketball coach who led Chisholm High to 1,012 victories in his 59-year career.

Attorney General Keith Ellison's mother. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's father. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan's brother.

Marny Xiong, 31, St. Paul school board chair.

Jayme Williams, 41, Itasca County deputy and father of three.

Mel and Sue Awes, 80 and 81, married for six decades, who died side by side in the ICU within a half-hour of each other.

Remember them.