The novel coronavirus has now killed more Americans in a single year than all the Americans killed in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam war combined.
(CN) — President Joe Biden gave an emotional speech from the White House on Monday, acknowledging the victims of the coronavirus pandemic as the United States crossed the grim marker of 500,000 deaths.
“There have been more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth,” Biden said. “While we acknowledge the scale, we remember each person that lost their lives.”
Biden and first lady Jill Biden took part in a moment of silence on the South Portico, where 500 candles were lit to represent the deaths the country experienced over the course of a pandemic that began roughly one year ago. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff also participated.
While Biden, who touched on his personal story of grief, portrayed a sense of empathy and sadness, he also struck a note of hope as case counts, hospitalizations and deaths continue to plummet around the country.
“There is light in the darkness,” he said. “This nation will smile again, this nation will know sunny days and this nation will know joy again.”
Earlier in the day, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said she is hopeful that the latest data means the deaths can subside and the healing can begin.
“We continue to see trend lines in the right direction, but there are still high levels of spread,” she said during a press conference Monday.
Biden also cautioned that Americans must not relax their vigilance, saying the social distancing protocols public health officials have been long recommending must still be followed despite the positive trend lines.
“Stay socially distant, mask up and vaccinate when it’s your turn,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci faced questions Monday about whether telling Americans to continue wearing face coverings, even after they are vaccinated, risks sending a mixed message to those considering whether or not to get the vaccine.
Fauci said scientists are still studying whether vaccines prevent transmission of the disease, or whether they just prevent the clinical manifestation of the disease in most patients. Until that is known, Fauci said masks are an important tool.
“You need to continue to wear masks despite getting vaccinated,” he said. “We are still at an unacceptably high baseline level.”
A recently released study in Israel indicates the Pfizer vaccine does dramatically slow the spread of the disease in patients if not stop it altogether. Other studies in the United Kingdom have shown similar promise.
About 13% of Americans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the CDC. The United States has so far proved to be one of the best countries in the world in terms of its vaccination pace, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considering other vaccines such as the one made by Johnson & Johnson.
But the statistics are just that, Biden said.
“We have to resist seeing each life lost as a statistic, or a blurb on the news,” he said. “We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”
Walensky and Fauci both acknowledged one of the main political flashpoints around the persistent pandemic continues to be the reopening of schools. Walensky said the CDC is currently studying Covid outbreaks at elementary schools in Georgia during a period of high community spread to glean insight into how to prevent disease spread as schools open up.
Biden promised to have the majority of schools open by the time his first 100 days expire, but recalcitrant teachers unions may yet throw a wrench in those plans.
Regardless, Biden’s other promise to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days looks on track and declining case counts, hospitalizations and deaths encourage a belief that the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day.