‘We grieve and begin healing’: Biden to address U.S. as COVID-19 deaths surpass 500K

With sunset remarks and a national moment of silence, President Joe Biden is planning a head-on acknowledgement of the country’s once-unimaginable loss — half a million Americans in the COVID-19 pandemic — in striking contrast to the approach of his predecessor.

Confronting the grim milestone directly and publicly, Biden is trying to strike a balance between gravity and hope, while Donald Trump generally avoided constructs of collective grief for the deaths on his watch.

Monday’s bleak threshold was playing out against contradictory crosscurrents: an encouraging drop in coronavirus cases and worries about the spread of more contagious variants.

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A president whose own life has been marked by family tragedy, Biden ordered flags on federal property lowered to half staff for five days as he prepared to lead a moment of communal mourning for those lost to a virus that often prevents people from gathering to remember their loved ones.

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Biden’s management of the pandemic will surely define at least the first year of his presidency, and his response has showcased the inherent tension between preparing the nation for dark weeks ahead while also offering optimism about pushing out vaccines that could, eventually, bring the pandemic to a close.

“I believe we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year. And God willing, this Christmas will be different than the last,” Biden said Friday while touring a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant in Michigan.

“But I can’t make that commitment to you,” he was quick to add. “There are other strains of the virus. We don’t know what could happen in terms of production rates. Things can change,” Biden continued. “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.”

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Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff were to lead a national moment of silence at sundown from the White House. They were to light a candle to mark the half-million deaths. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the ceremony “a human moment.”

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“The president felt it was important to mark the lives lost over the past year and that’s the purpose of tonight,” Psaki said during an afternoon press briefing. “Tonight is not the night to give advice to the public or give an update on progress being made.”

The milestone comes just over a year after the first confirmed U.S. fatality from the coronavirus. The pandemic has since swept across the world and the U.S., stressing the nation’s health care system, rattling its economy and rewriting the rules of everyday society.

In one of his many symbolic breaks with Trump, Biden has not shied away from offering remembrances for the lives lost to the virus. His first stop after arriving in Washington on the eve of his inauguration was to attend a twilight ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to mourn the dead.

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