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US tops 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, Biden to hold candle-lighting ceremony

The grim milestone comes as winter storms across much of the US stalled vaccination efforts.

President Biden wears a mask while speaking at the National Institutes of Health

President Biden wears a mask while speaking at the National Institutes of Health on Feb. 11.

Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg/Getty Images
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The US on Monday surpassed 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. President Joe Biden will hold a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony on Monday to remember the lives lost. Flags will be lowered to half staff across the nation for the next five days.

During a press conference Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the milestone a tragic reminder of the enormity of the pandemic. Across the country, COVID-19 cases have begun to fall, but winter storms pummeling much of the US over the past few weeks stalled vaccination efforts. Health officials said vaccinations should be back on track by midweek. 

Even as COVID-19 vaccinations bring hope, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser, on Sunday told CNN that this week will mark a "terribly historic milestone in the history of this country." 

The Biden administration has been working to ramp up vaccinations, and earlier this month the president said the US had now purchased enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines to cover all Americans. Still, Fauci told CNN that Americans may need to continue to wear masks in 2022 and take other steps to protect against COVID-19, even as the US regains a "degree of normality" toward the end of this year. 

Biden is expected to speak about the lives lost to COVID-19 around 6 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. PT, followed by the ceremony at the South Portico of the White House. Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will also attend the ceremony, according to the White House.