A powerful image in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, and compelling, comprehensive coverage of the carnage wrought by COVID-19 in Brazil are recognized for their global impact.

The end of May saw unprecedented news: The coronavirus pandemic continued to spread infection and wreak economic havoc around the globe, while much of the world’s attention pivoted suddenly to protests across the U.S. that spread to Paris, London, Australia and elsewhere after the suffocation death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

This week’s Best of the Week recognizes AP’s work surrounding each of those mega-stories, with top honors going to Baltimore-based photographer Julio Cortez for his iconic photo of a protester holding an American flag aloft, and to the AP all-formats team in Brazil for continuing coverage of the virus in a nation being ravaged by COVID-19.

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Baltimore-based AP photographer Julio Cortez at the scene of a protest in Minneapolis, May 28, 2020.

AP Photo / John Minchillo

Floyd died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck and back for almost nine minutes, even after the black man stopped moving and pleading for air. The death, captured on video, prompted rage in his city that quickly manifested on the streets. 

Late on a Thursday night when destruction and fires raged across the Twin Cities in response, Cortez recognized the symbolism of the U.S. flag when he saw a single protester emerging from the chaos of a police station being burned down. Cortez followed the protester down the street and composed an image silhouetting the man against the inferno of a burning liquor store, with the U.S. flag fluttering upside-down in the wake of his stride. 

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In a week that saw AP photographers produce a wealth of compelling images from protests and clashes across the nation, Cortez’s photo resonated as an image that defined this moment. Cortez’s frame went viral, appearing in newspapers around the world, including The New York Times and The Guardian. TV newscasts featured it. Twitter used it to lead its “What’s Happening” page. And multiple social media posts depicted it as the photo of the year.

Brazil, meanwhile, has emerged as the world’s newest COVID-19 epicenter, presenting no shortage of challenges: Populist President Jair Bolsonaro has resisted local quarantines, disproportionally impacting remote villages. The AP team in Brazil is this week’s second winner for its dramatic and wide-ranging coverage, from major cities to remote towns of the vast Amazon rainforest. 

It was truly a team effort. Honored are news director David Biller, senior producer Yesica Fisch, chief photographer Silvia Izquierdo, video journalists Renata Brito, Tatiana Pollastri, Mario Lobão, and Lucas Dumphreys, photographers Felipe Dana, Andre Penner, and Eraldo Peres, reporter Mauricio Savarese, and stringers Leo Correa for photo, Diarlei Rodrigues for video, and Diane Jeantet and Marcelo de Sousa for text.

While local media struggled to gain access to medical facilities in Rio de Janeiro state, AP’s journalists managed to win entry to three of them, showing ill-equipped doctors in increasingly overrun hospitals struggling to attend to patients. 

As families torn apart by COVID-19 gathered at cemeteries in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Manaus, in the Amazon, they shared their pain with AP journalists. In a series of deeply researched and sensitively told stories, the team profiled the vulnerable – the poor in favelas, desperate informal-sector workers and the homeless. And it captured the virus’ spread into the Amazon, in Manaus where denial of the disease has held strong even in the face of mass death, producing strong text, photo and video coverage.     

 For extraordinary work that excelled on the world’s two biggest stories at the end of May, Cortez and the Brazil all-formats reporting team earn AP’s Best of the Week.

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