Joe Biden memorialized the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19 during a vigil in Washington DC late Tuesday afternoon, as many Americans took to social media in collective mourning.
The grim milestone was passed earlier on Tuesday as the latest figures from Johns Hopkins university show that about 401,128 people have now been killed by the virus in the US amid more than 24m cases – both numbers being by far the highest in the world.
“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said at the memorial. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”
The memorial was hosted by Biden’s inaugural committee, which described the event as “a chance to reflect and honor those no longer with us. The committee had called for a “national moment of unity”, asking Americans to light candles in their windows. Organizers also asked for participants to ring bells for a “national moment of remembrance”.
Organizers also illumined 400 lights along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, to remember those who died.
Many posted messages of remembrance and photos of candles to social media. “RIP to my family and friends who I lost to Covid. Prayers up for my dad and many others who are still suffering & All those who have lost loved ones. Thank you Biden for honoring 400k lives lost,” wrote Twitter user @TamiekaChisolm.
“400k . Miss you everyday Nana,” @iam_justemma tweeted.
Actor Rosie Perez remarked: “In tears right now. With the death toll at 400,000, It took way too long to honor those who lost their lives due to #COVID19 but glad it’s finally happening. Thanks @JoeBiden @KamalaHarris. #COVIDMemorial.”
The memorial marks the first large-scale acknowledgment of Covid-19’s massive toll on individuals, families and communities across the US. President-elect Biden’s recognition of the tragedy stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the dangers of coronavirus amid a botched response by his administration that frequently included peddling conspiracy theories and denialism.
“We gather tonight, a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to lives we have lost, a grandmother or grandfather who is our whole world, a parent, partner, sibling or friend who we still cannot accept is no longer here, and for many months we have grieved by ourselves,” said Vice-president elect Kamala Harris at the memorial. “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”
Officials across the US joined Biden and Harris in the memorial.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking near the Statue of Liberty, described the vigil as a “powerful moment of unity for our city and for our country”.
“All over America at this moment, people are gathered [with] a common purpose: to remember those that we lost, to feel what their families are feeling,” he said.
Numerous landmarks and buildings across the US lit up for the occasion. The famed Empire State Building pulsed with its “red heartbeat lighting” in honor of those who died.
Biden has promised a sweeping plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic, including vaccinating 100 million US residents in his first 100 days in office. While the top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said this plan is “absolutely a doable thing”, Biden will inherit a coronavirus response that has repeatedly been described as a “mess”.
The federal government distributed vaccines to US states, and then left allocation protocols up to them. This scattershot approach, coupled with longstanding deficiencies in the US public health system, has stymied efforts to vaccinate Americans on a large scale.
Some local officials have warned that they will soon run out of the vaccine if they don’t receive additional federal shipments.
This botched vaccine rollout is all the more dangerous because a new Covid-19 variant, which is more transmissible, is poised to become far more prevalent, burdening the healthcare system even more.
It’s unclear whether Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus plan will get necessary bipartisan support. Congress members in both parties have voiced concern about the cost.
Members of Biden’s administration have nonetheless voiced optimism.
“There’s been bipartisan support for all of these pieces,” Kate Bedingfield, the incoming White House communications director, said during a recent TV appearance. “This plan reflects the urgent needs, the things that people need right now.” “We’ve got millions of Americans unemployed. We’ve got thousands of Americans dying from the virus every day. There’s no question we are in a state of emergency here, and this plan is designed to get the relief that people need to them right away.”