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WASHINGTON – In a somber sunset address from the White House, President Joe Biden paid homage Monday evening to the half a million U.S. lives lost to the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began more than one year ago.

“For me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose,” Biden said, imploring Americans, especially those mourning the loss of a loved one, to find a purpose “worthy of the lives they lived.”

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Shortly before 5 p.m. ET Monday, the U.S. death toll attributed to COVID-19 reached 500,017, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff joined Biden in the candle-lighting ceremony outside on the White House South Portico, followed by a moment of silence.

In his remarks, Biden conjured images of the individual lives lost, referencing the “son who called his mom every night just to check in,” the “best friend who was always there” and “the nurse who made her patients want to live.”

He then eulogized the “extraordinary” Americans who, tragically, “took their final breaths alone” and assured those listening to his remarks that he understands all too well “that black hole in your chest” that grief creates.

“As a nation, we cannot accept such a cruel fate,” Biden said, calling each life lost more than “a blur or a statistic” yet urging those witnessing the virus’ havoc to “resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”

“To heal, we must remember. I know it’s hard,” he said, promising that the day will arrive for every single person mourning when a memory brings a smile to their lips before a tear to their eye.

“That’s when you know you’re going to be okay,” Biden said, asking the nation to “remain vigilant” to continue combatting the spread of the virus.

“We have to fight this together, as one people, as the United States of America,” he said. “In this year of profound loss, we’ve seen profound courage … While we’ve been humbled, we’ve never given up. We are America. We can, and we will do this … This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again.”

In a proclamation issued shortly before Monday evening’s vigil, Biden stated that the more than half a million U.S. lives lost to the pandemic to date exceed U.S. deaths suffered in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

Biden also ordered all U.S. flags be flown at half-staff at “the White House, and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its territories and possessions until sunset Feb. 26, 2021.”

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