At 5 p.m., the White House lowered its flag to honor those who died, after Biden issued an order for all U.S. flags on federal property to be flown at half-staff for five days. At the same time, the Washington National Cathedral began tolling its bell 500 times.
Monday’s event, which comes just over a year after the first confirmed U.S. Covid-19 death, showcased how quickly the virus has spread in the country and how deadly it has been. It was only last month, on the eve of his inauguration, that Biden held a similar vigil at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate 400,000 lives lost. Biden also noted in his remarks that the number of coronavirus fatalities surpassed that of those who died in World Wars I and II, as well as the Vietnam War, combined.
The nation now finds itself at another inflection point in dealing with the pandemic. As new cases and deaths in the U.S. have fallen significantly from January highs, new variants have caused significant concern, as well as bleak weather conditions in the South that disrupted vaccine distribution. Those factors played into cautiously optimistic remarks Biden made on Friday, while touring a Pfizer manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“I believe we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year,” he said. “And God willing, this Christmas will be different than the last.”
“But I can’t make that commitment to you,” he continued. “There are other strains of the virus. We don’t know what could happen in terms of production rates. Things can change. But we’re doing everything the science has indicated we should do, and people are stepping up to get everything done that has to be done.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top health adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday noted how quickly the coronavirus had ravaged the U.S. to reach the half-million marker, calling it “terrible” and “really horrible.”
“It’s nothing like we’ve ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “People decades from now are going to be talking about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country.”
The actual number of Covid-19 fatalities, public health officials have said, is likely significantly higher.