Minutes before a mob of lawmakers gathered on the steps of the Capitol last week to mark the approaching US death toll of 1 million from Covid, it began to rain.
The shower ended by the time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress walked out of the building, but the slate-grey sky — and an American flag waved at half-mast — set the gloomy tone of the event.
“Behind every number is a person’s name, beloveds,” Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said in prayer. “Taken way too much, way too early and sometimes alone.”
Minutes later, after a musical performance by the Air Force choir and a moment of silence for the Covid victims, lawmakers began filtering back into the Capitol. There were no other prepared comments. The moment had passed.
Over the course of the pandemic, there have been a number of vigils, moments of silence and temporary installations in honor of the victims of the coronavirus across the United States. But when the country passed the milestone of millions of deaths… There was no national, permanent memorial to America’s loss on Thursday. Some survivors have called for more to do.
Kristin Urquiza, who turned to activism after her father died of Covid in June 2020, recently said that a permanent national monument to the pandemic is essential, and that as a country we need our president to lead the way, bring us as nation together to truly commemorate this moment.”
“A million people is pretty in-depth,” said Ms. Urquiza, co-founder of the advocacy group Marked by Covid, adding that “the gestures don’t fit to scale.”
Perhaps the most prominent effort to date is a huge sea of white flags planted on the National Mall for two weeks in September, easily visible from the White House, symbolizing the more than 670,000 people in the United States who have died by then. died of Covid — about the same as the total toll from the 1918 flu pandemic, which also has no national monument.
The Biden administration and members of Congress have said that with the pandemic far from over, their focus is on preventing more deaths, but even achieving that comes with its own challenges. The government’s request for a $22.5 billion aid package to fund vaccines, therapies and other treatments has been reduced to less than half its original size due to a Republican demand that it be paid back by previously approved funds. to claim. And that $10 billion package remains stalled because of an effort to include language in the bill that will enforce immigration restrictions at the country’s land borders.
“We are still in a fight against Covid and a fight against Covid,” Jen Psaki, then White House press secretary, said at a news conference last week. “There are still far too many people who get sick, are hospitalized and die. And this is not the last time we will commemorate or the last step the president will take to commemorate.”
That day, Mr. Biden had issued a proclamation ordering that American flags in the White House and all public buildings be flown at half-mast for several days in commemoration of one million Americans who died of Covid.
“As a nation, we must not become numb to so much grief. To heal, we must not forget,” he said. “We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible.”
Asked after the vigil whether Congress would establish a permanent national monument to the victims of Covid, Ms Pelosi said only, “Right now, we are only trying to save lives.”
The comments were the latest sign of how Washington is trying to strike a balance between a return to prepandemic normalcy and urging Americans to remain vigilant against the virus.
“We need to be able to respond to the situation we are in, not the situation we wish we were in, and at the same time be able to walk and chew gum,” said Ms Urquiza, referring to the Biden administration. Covid reaction. “We have to keep room for people who also experience grief and loss.”
Biden has made previous efforts to pay tribute to Covid victims. The night before his inauguration, he led a national mourning rally at Washington’s Reflecting Pool for the 400,000 Americans who had died from the virus. A month later, when the toll had reached half a million, he held a minute of silence on the South Lawn of the White House.
Although Marked By Covid has identified more than 70 local memorials, vigils and art installations marking the pandemic in the United States, all but a few were temporary.