Biden orders flags to half-staff as US records 1 million COVID deaths

He has ordered flags be flown at half-staff until May 16.

May 12, 2022, 5:33 PM

President Joe Biden on Thursday addressed the U.S. reaching the milestone of 1 million coronavirus deaths.

"One million empty chairs around the family dinner table," Biden said in a pre-taped video message. "Each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses. Each leaving behind a family or community forever changed because of this pandemic. Our heart goes out to all those who are struggling."

Biden has ordered flags be flown at half-staff at the White House and all federal public buildings and grounds until sunset on May 16 in remembrance of those who lost their lives to the virus.

President Joe Biden makes a statement regarding the 1 million COVID-19 related deaths that have occurred in the United States, on May 12, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
ABC News

His remarks kicked off a second virtual summit focused on the global response to the ongoing health crisis and preventing future pandemics. The United States is co-hosting the event alongside Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal.

Biden also noted the U.S. is not alone in its grief.

"Around the world many more millions have died," he said in the video message. "Millions of children have been orphaned, with thousands still dying every day. Now is the time for us to act. All of us together. We all must do more, must honor those we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible."

The American flag flies at half-staff at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2022, as the Biden administration commemorates 1 million American lives lost due to COVID-19.
Susan Walsh/AP

Biden on Thursday reiterated his call for Congress to pass more COVID-19 aid.

In March, Biden requested an additional $22.5 billion to combat the virus, warning that the country's testing, vaccine and treatment supplies were running low.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to forge ahead with a slimmed down $10 billion coronavirus assistance package. Senate Republicans previously blocked it over the administration's plan to lift Title 42, a pandemic-era rule restricting migration at the U.S. border.

Democrats tried to link the COVID-19 package to supplemental aid for Ukraine to ensure its passage but the two measures were decoupled earlier this week.

Biden said Thursday that the emergency coronavirus funding is "vital to protect Americans."

The pre-taped message marking 1 million deaths was more muted than Biden's address on 500,000 virus deaths in February 2021, when he and Vice President Kamala Harris stood in front of the South Portico of the White House and held a moment of silence as well as a candle-lighting ceremony.

White House press secretary Psaki defended Thursday's taped message when a reporter asked why the 1 million deaths milestone wasn't marked with a more prominent remembrance.

"I would say first the president publicly addressed this day and marked it," Psaki said. "We also lowered the flags for five -- they will be lowered for five days. And we will continue to mark and commemorate the lives lost. What people care about the country though, most, is our action and what actions the president will continue to take. And obviously since he took office, according to a Yale study, it’s estimated we’ve saved over 2.2 million American lives and $900 billion in health care costs. There’s more work that needs to be done. More work to fight misinformation. More work to get more people vaccinated and action is what people care about."