- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2021

President-elect Joseph R. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris memorialized the nearly 400,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus in a ceremony on Tuesday, saying the nation must remember the family members and friends lost to the disease.

Four hundred lights, each representing 1,000 victims, lined the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall as gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and other cities held similar vigils.

“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation,” Mr. Biden, who will be sworn at the 46th president on Wednesday, said a few steps from the Lincoln Memorial.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, said America should use its shared pain as a way to come together — a through-line of the ceremony as the Biden administration tries to follow through on its mantra of national unity.

“For many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together,” Ms. Harris said.

The Empire State Building in New York and Space Needle in Seattle were illuminated and other major cities joined the tribute, including Mr. Biden‘s birthplace of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

The U.S. surpassed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

New York has seen the most deaths of all the states, with over 41,000. It was slammed in the spring before the crisis shifted to the Sun Belt of the South and West over the summer. The Midwest suffered in the fall before the crisis blanketed the country in a winter surge of infections and death.

All told, more than 3,000 people are dying from the virus per day in the U.S.

The memorial offered a mournful contrast to President Trump’s frequent insistence the U.S. was “turning the corner” or lifting other nations in the battle against the disease.

Mr. Trump tended to focus on the positive throughout 2020, saying he served as a “cheerleader for the country.” He told reporter Bob Woodward that he wanted to play down the virus threat and later told campaign crowds the U.S. was rounding the turn, despite signs the pandemic was getting far worse.

But he also ushered in medical advancements to fight the pandemic, from building a surplus supply of ventilators that help people who cannot breathe on their own to shepherding a portfolio of vaccines and antibody therapeutics.

“They said it couldn’t be done, but we did it. They called it a medical miracle, and that’s what they’re calling it right now,” Mr. Trump said in his farewell address on Tuesday.

“We grieve for every life lost, and we pledge in their memory to wipe out this horrible pandemic,” the president said, before pivoting back to economic successes.

His health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, struck a somber tone in a Tuesday address to his department before he leaves on Wednesday.

“This is a national tragedy. We have lost members of our own HHS family, some of whom put their lives on the line by providing frontline care in the Indian Health Service. Many other members of our HHS family have lost loved ones or friends,” said Mr. Azar, who held a moment of silence in his livestreamed speech.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said the 400,000 deaths are a reminder that Americans need more relief.

“As we mourn this devastating milestone, we must come together to move past the failed Trump response to crush the virus and deliver robust, real relief now,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

The U.S. death toll far exceeds that of any other nation, with Brazil in second at about 210,000. However, populations differ and it is unclear if other nations are as diligent or transparent in recording COVID-19 deaths.

The global COVID-19 death toll recently surpassed 2 million as countries battle variants of the virus discovered in the U.K. and South Africa that appear to spread faster than previously known versions.

Scientists have detected mutated versions from Ohio to Germany in recent days due to frequent sequencing of the virus, though it’s not always clear which might be more contagious.

Scientists believe that existing vaccines will work against the variants.

In other positive signs, hospitalizations are down to 123,000 from a peak of 131,000 one week ago, and the seven-day rolling average cases is about 207,000 per day compared to nearly 250,000 a week ago.

Mr. Trump, who will fly to his Florida home on Wednesday, issued an order Monday lifting travel restrictions on Brazil and wide swaths of Europe as of Jan. 26. He left bans on China and Iran intact.

Airlines had been pushing for the relaxation, arguing they can test passengers, but Mr. Biden‘s team said it will reject the move and, if anything, tighten travel rules.

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