Address to the Nation on the First Anniversary of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The President. Good evening, my fellow Americans.
Tonight I'd like to talk to you about where we are as we mark 1 year since everything stopped because of this pandemic. A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked. Denials for days, weeks, then months that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness.
Photos and videos from 2019 feel like they were taken in another era. The last vacation. The last birthday with friends. The last holiday with the extended family. While it was different for everyone, we all lost something. A collective suffering. A collective sacrifice. A year filled with the loss of life and the loss of living for all of us.
But, in the loss, we saw how much there was to gain in appreciation, respect, and gratitude. Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do. In fact, it may be the most American thing we do. And that's what we've done.
We've seen frontline and essential workers risking their lives—sometimes losing them—to save and help others. Researchers and scientists racing for a vaccine. And so many of you, as Hemingway wrote, being strong in all the broken places. I know it's been hard. I truly know.
As I've told you before, I carry a card in my pocket with the number of Americans who have died from COVID to date. It's on the back of my schedule. As of now, total deaths in America: 527,726. That's more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam war, and 9/11 combined. They were husbands, wives, sons and daughters, grandparents, friends, neighbors—young and old. They leave behind loved ones unable to truly grieve or to heal, even to have a funeral.
But I'm also thinking about everyone else who lost this past year to natural causes, by cruel fate of accident or other disease. They, too, died alone. They, too, leave behind loved ones who are hurting badly.
You know, you've often heard me say before, I talk about the longest walk any parent can make is up a short flight of stairs to his child's bedroom to say: "I'm sorry, but I lost my job. Can't be here anymore." Like my dad told me when he lost his job in Scranton.
So many of you have had to make that same walk this past year. You lost your job. You closed your business. Facing eviction, homelessness, hunger, a loss of control, and maybe worst of all, a loss of hope.
Watching a generation of children who may be set back up to a year or more—because they've not been in school—because of their loss of learning.
It's the details of life that matter most, and we've missed those details, the big details and small moments: weddings, birthdays, graduations—all the things that needed to happen, but didn't. The first date. The family reunions. The Sunday night rituals. It's all has exacted a terrible cost on the psyche of so many of us. For we are fundamentally a people who want to be with others: to talk, to laugh, to hug, to hold one another.
But this virus has kept us apart. Grandparents haven't seen their children or grandchildren. Parents haven't seen their kids. Kids haven't seen their friends. The things we used to do that always filled us with joy have become the things we couldn't do and broke our hearts. Too often, we've turned against one another. A mask—the easiest thing to do to save lives—sometimes, it divides us. States pitted against one other instead of working with each other.
Vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated. At this very moment, so many of them—our fellow Americans—they're on the frontlines of this pandemic, trying to save lives, and still—still—they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It's wrong, it's un-American, and it must stop.
Look, we know what we need to do to beat this virus: Tell the truth. Follow the scientists and the science. Work together. Put trust and faith in our Government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people—no function more important.
We need to remember, the Government isn't some foreign force in a distant Capital. No, it's us. All of us. "We the People." For you and I, that America thrives when we give our hearts, when we turn our hands to common purpose. And right now, my friends, we are doing just that. And I have to say, as your President, I am grateful to you.
Last summer, I was in Philadelphia, and I met a small-business owner—a woman. I asked her—I said, "What do you need most?" I'll never forget what she said to me. She said—looking me in the eye, she said: "I just want the truth. The truth. Just tell me the truth." Think of that. My fellow Americans, you're owed nothing less than the truth.
And for all of you asking when things will get back to normal, here is the truth: The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track is to beat the virus. You've been hearing me say that for—while I was running and the last 50 days I've been President. But this is one of the most complex operations we've ever undertaken as a nation in a long time.
That's why I'm using every power I have as President of the United States to put us on a war footing to get the job done. It sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it: a war footing. And thank God we're making some real progress now.
In my first full day in office, I outlined for you a comprehensive strategy to beat this pandemic. And we've spent every day since attempting to carry it out. Two months ago, the country—this country didn't have nearly enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all or anywhere near all of the American public. But soon we will.
We've been working with the vaccine manufacturers—Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson—to manufacture and purchase hundreds of millions of doses of these three safe, effective vaccines. And now, at the direction and with the assistance of my administration, Johnson and Johnson is working together with a competitor, Merck, to speed up and increase the capacity to manufacture new Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is one shot.
In fact, just yesterday I announced—and I met with the CEOs of both companies—I announced our plan to buy an additional 100 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines. These two companies—competitors—have come together for the good of the Nation, and they should be applauded for it.
It's truly a national effort, just like we saw during World War II. Now, because of all the work we've done, we'll have enough vaccine supply for all adults in America by the end of May. That's months ahead of schedule. And we're mobilizing thousands of vaccinators to put the vaccine in one's arm. Calling on Active Duty military, FEMA, retired doctors and nurses, administrators, and those to administer the shots.
And we've been creating more places to get the shots. We've made it possible for you to get a vaccine at nearly one—any one of nearly 10,000 pharmacies across the country, just like you get your flu shot. And we're also working with Governors and mayors, in red States and blue States, to set up and support nearly 600 federally supported vaccination centers that administers hundreds of thousands of shots per day. You can drive up to a stadium or a large parking lot, get your shot, never leave your car, and drive home in less than an hour.
We've been sending vaccines to hundreds of community health centers all across America, located in underserved areas. And we've been deploying—and we will deploy more—mobile vehicles and pop-up clinics to meet you where you live so those who are least able to get the vaccine are able to get it.
We continue to work on making at-home testing available. And we've been focused on serving people in the hardest hit communities of this pandemic: Black, Latino, Native American, and rural communities.
So what does all this add up to? When I took office 50 days ago, only 8 percent of Americans after months—only 8 percent of those over the age of 65 have gotten their first vaccination. Today, that number is [nearly]* 65 percent. Just 14 percent of Americans over the age 75, 50 days ago, had gotten their first shot. Today, that number is well over 70 percent.
With new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the CDC—that came out on Monday, it means simply this: Millions and millions of grandparents who went months without being able to hug their grandkids can now do so. And the more people who are fully vaccinated, the CD [CDC]* will continue to provide guidance on what you can do in the workplace, places of worship, with your friends, and as well as travel.
When I came into office, you may recall, I set a goal that many of you said was, kind of, way over the top. I said I intended to get a hundred million shots in people's arms in my first hundred days in office. Tonight I can say we are not only going to meet that goal, we're going to beat that goal. Because we're actually on track to reach this goal of a hundred million shots in arms on my 60th day in office. No other country in the world has done this. None.
Now I want to talk about the next steps we're thinking about. First, tonight I'm announcing that I will direct all States, Tribes, and Territories to make all adults—people 18 and over—eligible to be vaccinated no later than May 1. Let me say that again: All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1. That's much earlier than expected.
Let me be clear: That doesn't mean everyone's going to have that shot immediately, but it means you'll be able to get in line beginning May 1. Every adult will be eligible to get their shot.
And, to do this, we're going to go from a million shots a day that I promised in December, before I was sworn in, to maintaining—beating our current pace of 2 million shots a day, outpacing the rest of the world.
Secondly, at the time when every adult is eligible in May, we will launch, with our partners, new tools to make it easier for you to find the vaccine and where to get the shot, including a new website that will help you first find the place to get vaccinated and the one nearest you. No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.
Thirdly, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan—and I thank again the House and Senate for passing it—and my announcement last month of a plan to vaccinate teachers and school staff, including bus drivers, we can accelerate the massive, nationwide effort to reopen our schools safely and meet my goal, that I stated at the same time about a hundred million shots, of opening the majority of K-through-8 schools in my first hundred days in office. This is going to be the number-one priority of my new Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.
Fourth, in the coming weeks, we will issue further guidance on what you can and cannot do once fully vaccinated, to lessen the confusion, to keep people safe, and encourage more people to get vaccinated.
And finally, fifth, and maybe most importantly: I promise I will do everything in my power, I will not relent until we beat this virus, but I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. And that's not hyperbole. I need you.
I need you to get vaccinated when it's your turn and when you can find an opportunity and to help your family and friends and neighbors get vaccinated as well.
Because here's the point: If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th, there's a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbeque and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn't mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.
After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.
But to get there, we can't let our guard down. This fight is far from order—from over. As I told the woman in Pennsylvania, "I will tell you the truth." A July 4 with your loved ones is the goal. But a goal—a lot can happen; conditions can change.
The scientists have made clear that things may get worse again as new variants of the virus spread. And we've got work to do to ensure everyone has confidence in the safety and effectiveness of all three vaccines.
So my message to you is this: Listen to Dr. Fauci, one of the most distinguished and trusted voices in the world. He's assured us the vaccines are safe. They underwent rigorous scientific review. I know they're safe. Vice President Harris and I know they're safe. That's why we got the vaccine publicly in front of cameras so—for the world to see, so you could see us do it. The First Lady and the Second Gentleman also got vaccinated.
Talk to your family, your friends, your neighbors—the people you know best who've gotten the vaccine. We need everyone to get vaccinated. We need everyone to keep washing their hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing the masks as recommended by the CDC.
Because even if we devote every resource we have, beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity. And national unity isn't just how politics and politicians vote in Washington or what the loudest voices say on cable or online. Unity is what we do together as fellow Americans. Because if we don't stay vigilant and the conditions change, then we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track. And, please, we don't want to do again.
We've made so much progress. This is not the time to let up. Just as we are emerging from a dark winter into a hopeful spring and summer is not the time to not stick with the rules.
I'll close with this. We've lost so much over the last year. We've lost family and friends. We've lost businesses and dreams we spent years building. We've lost time, time with each other.
And our children have lost so much time with their friends, time with their schools. No graduation ceremonies this spring. No graduations from college, high school, moving-up ceremonies. You know, and there's something else we lost. We lost faith in whether our Government and our democracy can deliver on really hard things for the American people.
But as I stand here tonight, we're proving once again something I have said time and time again until they're probably tired of hearing me say it. I say it foreign leaders and domestic alike: It's never, ever a good bet to bet against the American people. America is coming back.
The development, manufacture, and distribution of the vaccines in record time is a true miracle of science. It is one of the most extraordinary achievements any country has ever accomplished. And we also just saw the Perseverance rover land on Mars. Stunning images of our dreams that are now a reality. Another example of the extraordinary American ingenuity, commitment, and belief in science and one another.
And today I signed into law the American Rescue Plan, an historic piece of legislation that delivers immediate relief to millions of people. It includes $1,400 in direct rescue checks—payments. That means a typical family of four earning about $110,000 will get checks for $5,600 deposited if they have direct deposit or in a check—a Treasury check.
It extends unemployment benefits. It helps small businesses. It lowers health care premiums for many. It provides food and nutrition, keeps families in their homes. And it will cut child poverty in this country in half, according to the experts. And it funds all the steps I've just described to beat the virus and create millions of jobs.
In the coming weeks and months, I'll be traveling, along with the First Lady, the Vice President, the Second Gentleman, and members of my Cabinet, to speak directly to you, to tell you the truth about how the American Rescue Plan meets the moment. And if it fails at any place, I will acknowledge that it failed. But it will not.
About how after a long, dark years—1 whole year—there is hope and light of better days ahead. If we all do our part, this country will be vaccinated soon, our economy will be on the mend, our kids will be back in school, and we'll have proven once again that this country can do anything—hard things, big things, important things.
Over a year ago, no one could have imagined what we were about to go through, but now we're coming through it, and it's a shared experience that binds us together as a Nation. We are bound together by the loss and the pain of the days that have gone by. But we're also bound together by the hope and the possibilities of the days in front of us.
My fervent prayer for our country is that, after all we have been through, we'll come together as one people, one Nation, one America. I believe we can, and we will. We're seizing this moment. And history, I believe, will record: We faced and overcame one of the toughest and darkest periods in this Nation's history, darkest we've ever known.
I promise you, we'll come out stronger, with a renewed faith in ourselves, a renewed commitment to one another, to our communities, and to our country. This is the United States of America, and there is nothing—nothing—from the bottom of my heart, I believe this—there is nothing we can't do when we do it together.
So God bless you all. And please, God, give solace to all those people who lost someone. And may God protect our troops.
Thank you for taking the time to listen. I look forward to seeing you.
Q. President Biden, do you consider this a new phase of the pandemic?
NOTE: The President spoke at 8:01 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Kirsten Hess, owner and founder, Let's Play Books in Emmaus, PA; Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive Officer, Merck and Co., Inc.; Alex Gorsky, chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer, Johnson and Johnson Services, Inc.; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci; and Douglas C. Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala D. Harris. He also referred to H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was approved March 11 and assigned Public Law No. 117-2.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Address to the Nation on the First Anniversary of the COVID-19 Pandemic Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/348590