WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden marked one year since the coronavirus swept into the United States with his first prime-time television address Thursday night, commemorating the loss of more than a half million lives while offering hope for better days ahead.
Biden’s White House speech came 50 days after he took office and almost exactly a year after much of U.S. commerce shut down as the coronavirus enveloped state after state in a country that was unprepared for its biggest health crisis since the 1918 flu epidemic.
Now, even as thousands of schools remain shut to classroom instruction and millions of workers are still unemployed, there are signs of a sense of normalcy slowly returning. Some state governors are easing restrictions, allowing businesses to expand operations, despite warnings from U.S. health officials that reopening too soon could cause COVID-19 cases to spike.
Biden’s address follows congressional approval of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed with only the votes of Democratic lawmakers. Republicans uniformly opposed it, saying the aid was too costly and, in some cases, included assistance that had nothing to do with the virus.
Biden signed the legislation hours ahead of the speech.
More than 529,000 Americans have been killed by the virus and 29.1 million infected, more than in any other country in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Biden said Wednesday he would use the address to discuss "what we've been through as a nation this past year."
"But more importantly, I'm going to talk about what comes next. I'm going to launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people," he said.
Biden is hopeful that while the coronavirus pandemic has hardly been stopped, there appears to be a path toward that goal. He says there will be enough doses of vaccine available to inoculate every adult American who wants it by the end of May.
"We cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable,” Biden said at an event Wednesday with the chief executives of drug makers Johnson & Johnson and Merck. “Together, we're going to get through this pandemic and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, told NBC News' "Today" show on Thursday, "There is light at the end of the tunnel. By the time we get into the mid to late summer, early fall, we're going to start seeing a big, big difference."
As of Wednesday, about 96 million vaccine shots had been administered in the U.S., government data showed, with about 10% of the U.S. adult population having received both shots of the two-shot regimen required with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations. A single-shot dose produced by drug maker Johnson & Johnson has become available more recently.
On the same date a year ago, then President Donald Trump told Americans there was little to fear about the virus, saying, “The risk is very, very low.” He continued for weeks to downplay the coronavirus danger, but later ramped up research and production of the vaccines now being administered.
Except for Trump and former first lady Melania Trump, all the living former U.S. presidents and their spouses are appearing in a new public service announcement encouraging Americans to get vaccinated.