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Could the COVID-19 memorial on the National Mall become permanent?

Each light on the temporary memorial represents one thousand people lost to the coronavirus.
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The U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument are seen as a COVID-19 memorial is lighted at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Jan. 19, 2021.PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

As the nation mourns the loss of more than 400,000 Americans — as of Tuesday — to the coronavirus pandemic, people began calling for a temporary memorial in honor of the deceased to stay permanent.

Tuesday night, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris held a lighting ceremony of hundreds of lights at the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pond ahead of their inauguration on Wednesday at noon.

In a segment immediately thereafter, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams called for the installation to be made permanent.

“There are memorials along that mall to the people who have fought our wars,” he said, adding he hoped the International Space Station would capture the lights from space Tuesday evening as it passed over the East Coast. “Sadly, the only thing that we can predict tonight is that there will be more lights. We have lost 100,000 since December. So perhaps, in a gesture visible from space, this is the new Washington memorial, right there in front of our eyes.”

Incoming Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, incoming US First Lady Jill Biden, and President-elect Joe Biden watch as a COVID-19 Memorial is lit at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Jan. 19, 2021 to honor the lives of those lost to the coronavirus.JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

He added that the country should keep and protect the lights along the reflecting pond, while maintaining them in a standardized way.

“It’s a bold statement, it is a reflecting pool after all,” he said. “It does bookend the Washington experience from generations of Americans. Between Abe Lincoln on his chair, Dr. King — the invisible actor looking over that reflecting pool every night — and the city’s founder, George Washington, at the other end.”

Almost immediately, the idea picked up traction online.

"I 100% agree with Brian Williams that the lights around the reflecting pool at National Mall that memorializes all who have died from Coronavirus so far should be made permanent. I’m all for that, how about you?" @TheRickyDavila wrote.

“Brian Williams is so right: this memorial should become permanent,” Washington Post opinion editor Holly Figueroa O'Reilly tweeted.

"Brian Williams is right. It should be permanent," @Kats_GA posted. "In the very least, left there until this pandemic ends and a monumental structure placed on the mall for them."

“I agree with Brian Williams: make this memorial permanent,” author Seth Abramson wrote in a now-viral post.

TODAY spoke with the National Park Service about the process that would have to happen to add a new memorial on the National Mall, which a spokesman termed a "very deliberate" 24-step process that involves involving the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, the National Capital Planning Commission, Commission of Fine Arts, Department of the Interior, National Park Service and more.

"While the COVID memorial along the Lincoln Memorial was, indeed, beautiful and moving, any permanent change to the approved design and architect's intent of an existing memorial would require a thorough review and approval from (several) organizations," NPS spokesman Mike Litterst explained.