President Joe Biden honored the more than 500,000 people in the United States who have died of COVID-19, offering words of solace and hope Monday as the nation surpassed a profound benchmark in the fight against the pandemic.
“Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead,” said Biden, speaking to the American people from the White House. “That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth.”
Johns Hopkins University figures showed Monday that the U.S. had surpassed the bleak mark even as infection rates and fatalities have begun to decline. The pace of the deaths over the past month has been shocking as the nation reels from a spike in cases after the holiday season, even amid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The last 100,000 deaths occurred in just over a month.
But there are signs of hope. More than 44 million Americans have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and the White House has pledged to have enough doses for nearly everyone in the country by July. The pace of vaccinations has about doubled over the past month.
The president said even amid that hope, Americans must “remember each person and the life they lived,” and “resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur.”
“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans,” Biden said. “There’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations, born in America and immigrated to America. But just like that, so many of them took their final breath alone in America.”
Earlier in the day, Biden ordered the flags at the White House to be lowered to half-staff in honor of those who have died during the pandemic. They will remain lowered for the rest of the week. The president and first lady Jill Biden also held a moment of silence for the victims of the pandemic.
A solemn Biden spoke about his own history of loss following the deaths of his first wife, Neilia, and his daughter Naomi, who were killed in a car accident in 1972. His son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.
“I know all too well. I know what’s it’s like to not be there when it happens,” the president said. “I know what it’s like when you are there, holding their hands. Looking in their eye when they slip away. That black hole in your chest, you feel like you’re being sucked into it. A survivor’s remorse, the anger, the questions of faith in your soul.”
The president, however, offered hope to those “a year, a month, a week, a day or even an hour” beyond such pain, saying the nation “will smile again.”
“This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again. And as we do, we’ll remember each person we lost, the lives they lived and the loved ones they’ve left behind. We will get through this. I promise you.”
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