Biden holds moment of silence for 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, promises nation "will know joy again"

Before a moment of silence at the White House, President Joe Biden connected his personal losses to the more than half a million dead in the U.S. from COVID-19. Weijia Jiang reports how the current administration's response to the pandemic contrasts with its predecessor's.

Video Transcript

TONY DOKOUPIL: We are a nation united, if by anything, by mourning this morning as we mark 1/2 a million lives lost in the pandemic. As you were just listening, the bells of Washington's National Cathedral tolled yesterday 500 times, once for every 1,000 Americans killed. The White House has ordered flags flown at 1/2 staff for five days. And last night, the Bidens and the second family held an emotional moment of silence. It is the first official event ever at the White House to honor those we've lost.

Weijia Jiang is at the White House this morning for us. Weijia, good morning to you. As we were just saying, Joe Biden knows lost intimately, spoke from the heart directly to American families who have lost someone. What was his message?

WEIJIA JIANG: Good morning, Tony. You're right. He used exactly that, his own personal pain, to empathize with others. And while he did honor the lives of the more than 1/2 a million people lost, he also asked Americans to repurpose their grief to prevent even more deaths.

JOE BIDEN: Today, we mark a truly grim heartbreaking milestone.

WEIJIA JIANG: President Biden said he felt he knew those who died of COVID-19 and certainly the heartache of their loved ones.

JOE BIDEN: I know all too well. I know what it's like to not be there when it happens.

WEIJIA JIANG: The president's first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash. He lost his adult son, Beau, to brain cancer.

JOE BIDEN: I know what it's like when you are they're holding their hands. There's a look in your eye and they slip away.

WEIJIA JIANG: The somber ceremony was a departure from former President Trump, who did not hold a moment of national mourning or a memorial service, but repeatedly downplayed the pandemic.

DONALD TRUMP: We have it very much under control. It's not my fault that it came here. It's China's fault. November 4th, you won't hear too much about it.

WEIJIA JIANG: Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday seemed to partially blame the previous administration for where we are now.

ANTHONY FAUCI: I don't think it's, you know, all Donald Trump, or all this, or all that, it's a combination of things. And certainly, the lack of involvement at the very, very top of the leadership.

WEIJIA JIANG: More than 44 million people in the US have been vaccinated so far, putting the Biden administration's goal to vaccinate 100 million in 100 days within reach. As some states experience critical vaccine shortages, Mr. Biden signaled hope.

JOE BIDEN: This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again.

WEIJIA JIANG: And in a promising sign, the acting FDA commissioner said, the administration is looking for ways to modify vaccines and therapeutics to tackle those variants of the virus that continue to spread. Gayle.

GAYLE KING: All right, Weijia. Thank you very much.