REUTERS: The United States (US) on Tuesday crossed the grim milestone of the deaths reported due to the novel coronavirus on Monday, according to data obtained by the country.
In a proclamation honoring the dead, President Joe Biden ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff on public buildings and grounds until sunset on Friday.
“On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind,” Biden said in the proclamation. “We, as a Nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one Nation to defeat this pandemic.”
Bells tolled at the National Cathedral in Washington to honor the lives lost – ringing 500 times to symbolize the 500,000 deaths.
“As we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, remember each person and the life they lived,” Biden said in a somber speech at the White House after the bells sounded.
“The son who called his mom every night just to check in. The father, the daughter who lit up his world. The best friend who was always there. … The nurse who made her patients want to live.”
A few moments later, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses appeared wearing black clothing and black masks. They stood silently as the hymn “Amazing Grace” was played.
The country had recorded more than 28 million COVID-19 cases and 500,264 lives lost as of Monday afternoon, according to a Reuters tally of public health data, although daily cases and hospitalizations have fallen to the lowest level since before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
About 19% of total global coronavirus deaths have occurred in the United States, an outsized figure given that the nation accounts for just 4% of the world’s population.
“This is the worst thing that’s happened to this country with regard to the health of the nation in over 100 years,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease adviser to President Joe Biden, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday. He added that decades from now, people would be talking about “that horrible year of 2020, and maybe 2021.”
For most of 2020, Fauci served on former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, a job that often put him at odds with Trump, who sought to downplay the severity of pandemic despite contracting COVID-19 himself, and refused to issue a national mask mandate.
Political divisiveness, Fauci said, contributed significantly to the U.S. death toll.