By JUSTIN GOMEZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — For the third time this year, President Joe Biden will mark a landmark moment in the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering his first prime-time address Thursday night to recognize the sacrifices Americans have made in the year since widespread shutdowns began across the United States and to ask them to help with “what comes next.”
“I’m gonna launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people,” Biden said on Wednesday, previewing his remarks. “There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year. But we cannot let our guard down now or assume the victory is inevitable. Together, we’re gonna get through this pandemic and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future.”
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the spread of the virus a pandemic and hours later, then-President Donald Trump delivered an address from the Oval Office and suspended travel from Europe.
In the year since, with Americans quarantining at home and many governors shutting down their state economies, U.S. unemployment skyrocketed to 14.8% and more than 22 million American jobs were lost at the height of the pandemic, creating one of the largest economic crises in U.S. history.
On the eve of his inauguration, Biden held a solemn ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, surrounded by 400 lights around the Reflecting Pool, to honor the more than 400,000 Americans who had died from the coronavirus. It was the first time the nation had ever memorialized the lives lost.
As the U.S. surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, held a candlelight vigil on the White House steps and ordered U.S. flags across the country to half-staff.
When Biden delivers his nearly 20-minute speech to the nation Thursday night, the death toll will be at least 525,000, the highest in the world, and it comes one year to the day after President Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office saying he would use the “full power of government” to fight the virus, after saying the day before “it will go away.”
Biden will tout the benefits of his recently passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP), which he will sign into law earlier Thursday afternoon. The plan aims to provide economic relief to families and businesses that continue to feel the lasting impacts of this pandemic.
Not a single Republican voted for the bill, a disappointment for Biden who had hoped to start off his presidency with a bipartisan win on the legislation, at one point he even confidently said, “we’ll get Republican support.”
The giant aid package includes direct payments for Americans, funds to help schools safely reopen, money to increase COVID-19 vaccine distribution, expanded child tax credits and funding for hard-hit state and local governments.
Biden did have to make concessions along the way to appease moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Fewer Americans will be eligible for those stimulus checks, enhanced weekly unemployment benefits were reduced from Biden’s proposed $400 to $300 and there is no mandate for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.
Despite the lack of GOP support, the Biden administration has been touting the popularity of the bill among Americans. A Pew Research poll found that 70% of U.S. adults say they favor the legislation and 41% of Republicans/Lean Republican say they are in favor of the package.
During her daily press briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki gave a clearer picture of what a family would get because of the ARP.
“Here’s what this all means for a typical family of four with parents making under $150,000 a year combined and with kids in school age eight and five: Because of the president’s rescue plan, that family of four will soon be getting $5,600 in direct payments, and because of the expanded child tax credit, they’ll get $2,600 in addition to that. So that’s $8,200 more in the pockets of this family as they try to weather this storm.”
With the bill passed, Psaki also said they’re looking ahead to getting Biden, Harris and their “best voices” on the road to sell this to the public — but details on where they’ll be traveling to were not immediately announced.
“We’ll be emphasizing a number of components that are in the package and really having a conversation. This is important to the president personally. Having a conversation directly with people about how they could benefit, addressing questions they have, even taking their feedback on implementation and how to make it clear.”
Psaki said they’ll be using digital tools, hold interviews with local news stations and dispatch Cabinet members who will help implement the plan.
Another groundbreaking achievement over the year was the creation and approval of three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and as he’s been doing, Biden will likely urge Americans to get vaccinated to help bring the country closer to ending the pandemic.
Nearly 24% of Americans over 18-years-old have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House announced on Tuesday that 15.8 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna doses will be shipped to states, tribes and territories this week, a 600,000 increase over last week’s total of 15.2 million. Another 2.7 million doses will be sent directly to pharmacies, for a total of 18.5 million doses going out this week.
Biden also announced Wednesday plans to order 100 million additional doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be delivered later this year, which means the company is on track to deliver 20 million doses by the end of the month, 100 million by the end of May and end the year with 200 million doses.
Over 29 million COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., but the national seven-day average of daily cases has now dropped to under 60,000 cases a day on average, a 12.5% drop in the last seven days.
The decline and stabilization has led the CDC to release new guidelines saying fully vaccinated Americans can start to gather with vaccinated grandparents or friends without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart, but haven’t advised when it will be safe for them to travel again.
“There are a lot of folks who are older, people with chronic diseases,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on ABC’s Good Morning America this week. “Let them get vaccinated and I think it will happen in the next month or so then we can begin to relax these restrictions and get our lives back.”
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.