President Joe Biden marked “a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone” of 500,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus during a candle-lighting ceremony Monday at the White House.
“That’s more Americans who’ve died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined,” Biden said in a televised address before the ceremony. “That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth.”
The president asked Americans to join him in a moment of silence — and to wear masks and practice social distancing to “spare more pain and more loss.” The president also ordered all flags on federal property to be lowered to half-staff for the next five days, the White House said.
The memorial comes just over a month after Biden observed the loss of 400,000 Americans the evening before his inauguration during a ceremony on the National Mall, underscoring the staggering toll the yearlong pandemic has taken on the nation. Death rates and hospitalizations have abated in recent weeks as more Americans are vaccinated, though that effort has been hampered by supply and logistical complications.
Biden said his “heart aches” for those who have lost loved ones but added that the nation will “know joy again.”
“The day will come when the memory of the one you have lost brings a smile to your lips before a tear to your eye,” Biden said.
Biden was joined at the ceremony by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff.