Biden to mark upcoming 500,000 US Covid-19 deaths with candle lighting ceremony Monday

Biden to mark upcoming 500,000 US Covid-19 deaths with candle lighting ceremony. By Arlette Saenz and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

(CNN) -- With the US approaching 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, President Joe Biden will mark the grim milestone Monday with a candle lighting ceremony and a moment of silence, the White House said Sunday.

The event, which is set for 6:15 p.m. ET at the White House, will also feature first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Biden will deliver remarks on the lives lost ahead of the ceremony.

The ceremony underscores the empathetic message Biden has sought to bring to the US coronavirus response since taking office last month -- a departure from his predecessor. On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was working on plans so the President could use his "own voice and platform to take a moment to remember the people whose lives have been lost, the families who are still suffering."

One day before taking office, Biden, Harris and their spouses held a somber ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 400,000 lives lost to Covid-19 in the US at the time.

"To heal we must remember," Biden said at the January event. Harris also spoke briefly at the memorial, noting that "for many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together."

Their message stands in contrast with former President Donald Trump, who frequently defended his administration's response to the pandemic but rarely expressed grief for the victims. In September, Trump told Axios on HBO that the US Covid-19 death toll, "is what it is."

"They are dying. That's true. And you -- it is what it is," Trump said at the time. "But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it."

While coronavirus cases are trending down and vaccinations are ticking up, the US is struggling to get a handle on the threat posed by new variants. Experts -- both inside and outside the White House -- are still far from certain that America is finally clawing its way out of the pandemic, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, telling CNN Sunday that it's "possible" Americans will still need to wear masks in 2022 to protect against the coronavirus, even as the US may reach "a significant degree of normality" by the end of this year.

"This is a race to get the vaccine out there broadly enough and fast enough that it eliminates the chance of spread of even more strains," said Dr. Bala Hota, an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "We're not out of the woods yet."

This story has been updated with additional information Sunday.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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