President Joe Biden marked the grim milestone of 500,000 lives lost to the Covid-19 pandemic in a brief but poignant address to the nation Monday evening, drawing on his own personal tragedies as a rhetorical salve for a country still combating the deadly disease.
"That's more Americans who've 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," Biden said. "But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived."
The president said he keeps a card in his pocket every day with the tally of those who have died from Covid-19.
"The people we lost were extraordinary," Biden said. "We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow."
As Biden highlighted the hundreds of thousands who have perished, he also urged Americans to remember those still reeling from having lost loved ones.
Biden, who often draws on his personal losses when addressing national tragedies, compared their grief to what he experienced after the deaths of his first wife and infant daughter, as well as his eldest son Beau.
"I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens," he said. "I know what it’s like when you are there, holding your hands, looking in their eyes as they slip away."
"That’s how you heal, you have to remember. The day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before a tear to your eye," he added, saying that "for me the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose."
New Covid-19 cases have continued to plummet following a post-holiday peak. The U.S. has reported more than 100,000 new daily cases on only one of the last 14 days, a month after regularly number more than 200,000 new cases, according to NBC News data. Daily deaths are decreasing, too, but more slowly, still regularly eclipsing 2,000.
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Before Biden ended his speech, he joined the first lady, vice president Kamala Harris and the second gentleman for a moment of silence ceremony. They were surrounded by 500 candles, each representing 1,000 lives lost to Covid-19. As the president bowed his head, the Marine band brass ensemble played Amazing Grace. After the music ended, Biden crossed himself and the officials reentered the White House.
Biden closed his remarks by urging Americans to work together to defeat the virus by following public health guidelines like social distancing and mask-wearing.
"We must end the politics and misinformation that’s divided families, communities in this country," Biden said. This virus does not target Democrats or Republicans, he added, but all of our fellow Americans.
"Let this not be a story of how far we fell, but how far we climbed back up," Biden said.