Candles were lit at the White House South Portico at sunset Monday, a day on which the number of Americans who died from COVID-19 broke the staggering record of 500,000.
“That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth,” U.S. President Joe Biden said as he led a moment of silence accompanied by his wife, Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the second gentleman, Douglas Emhoff.
“But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived,” said the president, per whose order earlier in the day flags on top of the presidential residence and on other federal properties were lowered to half-mast.
Johns Hopkins University’s statistics showed that 500,176 American lives had been lost to COVID-19 as of 7:23 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday (0023 GMT, Tuesday), a toll far outnumbering any nation in the world.
To put the number into perspective, about one in 670 Americans have died from the virus, of which a deadly consequence is that life expectancy in the country dropped one year to 77.8 years in the first six months of 2020, according to a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate,” Biden said.
Although the nation is not out of the woods yet, there are some silver linings: New cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all slowed in recent days, and vaccine distribution has gradually picked up pace. However, uncertainty about the emergence of new variants is still worrisome, and some of the new strains could be more contagious and potentially more lethal.
“We will remember each person we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left behind. We will get through this, I promise you,” Biden said before observing the moment of silence.