Commemorating the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died from COVID-19, US President Joe Biden addressed the nation late on Monday, and urged viewers to “resist becoming numb” in spite of the rising death toll.

Speaking from the White House, Biden touched on his own personal lessons of grief, discussing the emotions he experienced after the deaths of his first wife Neilia, his daughter Naomi and his son Beau. 

Although Biden has previously spoken about those losses, Monday’s remarks saw the president underscore the additional burdens of not being able to be with a loved one or inability to host memorial services with family as a result of the pandemic. 

“I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens. I know what it’s like when you are there holding their hands as they look in your eye & they slip away, that black hole in your chest, you feel like you’ve been sucked into it,” Biden told viewers.

“As we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, remember each person and the life they lived. They’re people we knew. They’re people we feel like we knew. Read the obituaries and remembrances.”

“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. We must do so to honor the dead. But, equally important, to care for the living,” he continued.

U.S. President Joe Biden concludes his remarks in honor of the 500,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Cross Hall at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 22, 2021.

“To heal, we must remember. I know it’s hard. I promise you, I know it’s hard. I remember. But that’s how you heal. You have to remember. And it’s also important to do that as a nation. For those who have lost loved ones, this is what I know: They’re never truly gone.”

Biden also took the moment to state that the virus does not distinguish between one’s political beliefs, stressing the nation must move past the pandemic as one. 

“It’s not Democrats and Republicans who are dying from the virus,” he said. “It’s our fellow Americans. It’s our neighbors, our friends, our mothers, our fathers, our sons, our daughters. Husbands, wives. We have to fight this together, as one people. As the United States.”

Following the brief speech, Biden, along with first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, exited the White House and held a moment of silence on the South Portico porch. 

© REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff attend a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony to commemorate the grim milestone of 500,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 22, 2021.

The commemoration saw the four surrounded by an estimated 500 candles in an effort to represent the Americans who died from COVID-19. The moment of silence was followed by a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Ahead of his remarks, Biden ordered flags on federal lands to be lowered for the next five days. Photos taken at the White House shows the American flag at half-staff. 

Additionally, the bells at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, tolled 500 times, once for every 1,000 Americans lost to COVID-19.