On the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden stepped into the role ceded to him by departing President Donald Trump and led the nation in mourning the 400,000 people across the United States who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden was introduced at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool by Lori Marie Key — a Michigan nurse on the Covid-19 front lines — who sang “Amazing Grace.”
“To heal we must remember,” Biden said after he acknowledged the risks and sacrifices nurses have made during the pandemic. “It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”
Joining Biden for the somber ceremony were Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, along with Biden’s and Harris’ spouses. All wore masks against the pandemic and warm coats against the winter’s cold.
The couples held hands as gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang “Hallelujah” and 400 lights were turned on along the perimeter of the pool, each representing a thousand people lost to the coronavirus.
“We gather tonight, a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to the lives we lost,” Harris had said earlier. “For many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight we grieve together.”
As Biden and Harris spoke, the nation’s capital was an armed camp as thousands of troops and police were on hand to make sure Wednesday’s changing on the guard at the White House is peaceful.
“We grieve for every life lost,” Trump had said earlier in a farewell address recorded in the White House, from which he was expected to depart for Florida on Wednesday morning before the inauguration.
As the U.S. eclipsed a staggering milestone — the 400,000th coronavirus death — Biden prepares to take the reins of the country after a bitter election that was followed by a shocking attempt to overturn the will of the people by Trump’s most ardent supporters.
In New York City, the top of the Empire State Building was lit up in memory of the Covid-19 victims like a flashing red heartbeat, in sync to the sound of Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.”
In Seattle and Houston, skyscrapers were lit up with amber lights to remember the dead. And many state capitols around the country, including the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, were illuminated in the same amber hue.
In New Orleans, white flags for the coronavirus victims were unfurled in Lafayette Square ahead of the ceremony.
In Chicago, the spires in The Loop were darkened for 10 minutes. Chicagoans were asked to turn off their phones and emerge from their homes at 6:10 p.m. CT with lit candles “to symbolize moving from darkness to light,” the mayor’s office said.
Covid-19 memorials were also held in both of Biden’s hometowns, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware.
And across the land, in communities big and small, church bells rang to acknowledge the dead.
On the National Mall, thousands of small U.S. and territorial flags stood sentry, mute stand-ins for those who would have attended the inauguration were it not for the pandemic — and for the people lost to a silent killer.