President Joe Biden will take part in a candle-lighting ceremony on Monday night, followed by a moment of silence to acknowledge the grim milestone of 500,000 deaths due to coronavirus in the United States.
Biden will be joined during the event by first lady Jill Biden, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Prior to the ceremony, Biden plans to deliver a statement marking the occasion, which will take place at 6:15 pm Eastern Time.
On Sunday evening, the U.S. reportedly surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to a tally from NBC News. Other sources show that total deaths from coronavirus was just under 500,000 at this time, but will likely surpass that number by the time Biden delivers his remarks this evening.
The number of deaths reached due to coronavirus so far is equivalent to the number of U.S. lives lost during both World War II and the Vietnam War, or roughly equal to the total population of Kansas City, Missouri.
The move to acknowledge the number lost to COVID is a stark departure from what Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, would typically engage in when it came to reminders of the impact of the virus on American lives. At the 400,000 COVID deaths mark, for example, which happened in mid-January, Trump did not even acknowledge the milestone, let alone hold a ceremony to acknowledge the solemn occasion as Biden is doing Monday night.
Indeed, on the evening prior to their inaugurations, it was Biden and Harris who held a moment of silence at the Lincoln Memorial, to acknowledge the U.S. deaths at that time.
While in office, Trump frequently tried to deflect away from statistics highlighting how many had perished due to a virus he once claimed would disappear within a matter of days. During an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios last August, for example, Trump tried to change the metric by which we should measure the impact of COVID-19, by trying to dismiss the total number of deaths recorded at that time. When Swan persisted in questioning the former president about the U.S. death toll, Trump finally acknowledged that a significant number were dying from the virus, but doing so in a curt and seemingly indifferent way.
“They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is,” Trump said at the time.
While the grim milestone being reached on Monday is difficult for many to take, there are small signs of optimism on the horizon. The current numbers for infections are still much too high to feel untroubled over, experts warn, but in recent weeks there has been a noticeable decline in both the rate of new cases being reported as well as the number of deaths occurring across the country per day.
The seven-day average of new cases being counted, for instance, was at 195,064 cases per day on January 20, according to figures from The New York Times. As of February 21, the daily average was down to 66,393 per day.
The rate of deaths is also diminishing. The seven-day rate of new deaths being reported a month ago was 3,056 per day. While still too high in the eyes of health experts, the February 21 rate of new deaths being reported is at 1,928 per day — a welcome decrease in that metric.