As the nation marked 500,000 deaths because of COVID-19, US President Joe Biden at twilight walked to a White House South Portico decorated with black bunting and 500 candles.
Alongside President Joe Biden were first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, who is known as the second gentleman. They stood silently as the Marine Corps band played the Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
As the music concluded, Biden, a Catholic, made the sign of the cross.
A few minutes earlier at the Cross Hall on the first floor of the White House, Biden asked the nation to join in the moment of silence and, in a subdued tone, directed remarks to those who had lost loved ones to the virus.
“It seems unbelievable, but I promise you 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,” the president said. “We will get through this, I promise you.”
He also spoke of the cruelty of death amid the pandemic.
“So many of the rituals that help us cope, that help us honour those we loved, haven’t been available to us,” the president noted. “As a nation, we cannot and we must not let this go on.”
US flags lowered to half-staff
The president on Monday ordered US flags on federal property lowered to half-staff for five days.
The National Cathedral in Washington, meanwhile, tolled its bells 500 times to honor the lives lost to the coronavirus.
It was a year ago Tuesday that President Donald Trump declared to reporters on the White House South Lawn as he departed for India that “we have it very much under control,” adding “very interestingly, we’ve had no deaths.”
The first fatality from the virus in the United States had actually occurred more than two weeks before the President’s remarks, but it was not until April 2020 that authorities confirmed 57-year-old Patricia Dowd of San Jose, California, had died of COVID-19.
Amid the gloom of a half-million deaths and the emergence of variants of the virus, there are expressions of optimism from top US government officials.
The seven-day average of deaths in the country is continuing to decline, according to Dr Rochelle Wolensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.