President Biden marked today's COVID milestone with a loving and sobering message to all Americans

Just over a month after passing the grim milestone of 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, the United States has surpassed another one. As of today, more than half a million Americans have been lost to the virus that's held the world in a pandemic holding pattern for almost a year. It's a number that seemed unfathomable even six months ago, and yet here we are.

Despite increasing vaccine rollouts allowing us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the loss we've experienced is immense. Having a president who not only understands loss on a personal level—having endured the tragic loss of his wife and baby daughter earlier in life and the death of his son just six years ago—but who conveys with compassion the grief of the nation as we mark this milestone is a comforting change.

Tonight, the White House honored the 500,000+ lives lost with a display of 500 candles lining the steps of the building, with each candle representing 1000 Americans. The president and first lady, along with the vice president and second gentleman, held a memorial moment of silence outside the South Portico as a military band played "Amazing Grace."


Prior to the candle ceremony, President Biden spoke to the nation about the importance of marking this milestone, offered words of empathy and caring to those who've lost loved ones, and shared a message of unity and hope.

Biden started by sharing that he receives a card each day that he keeps with this schedule in his pocket that shows how many Americans have been infected with or died from COVID-19.

"Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead," he said. "That's more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. That's more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth. But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America we remember each person and the life they lived. They're people we knew. They're people we feel like we knew. Read the obituaries and the remembrances. The son who called his mom every night just to check in, the father's daughter who lit up his world, the friend who was always there, the nurse who made her patients want to live."

"While we've been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow," he said. "We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or one the news. We must do so to honor the dead, but equally important, care for the living that are left behind. For the loved ones left behind, I know all too well. I know what it's like to not be there when it happens. I know what it's like when you are there, holding their hands as they look in your eye and they slip away. That black hole in your chest, you feel like you're being sucked into it. The survivor's remorse, the anger. The questions of faith in your soul..."

Biden spoke directly to those who are grieving lost loved ones, sharing what he's learned through his own experiences of loss.

"To heal, we must remember," he said. "It's important to do that as a nation. For those who've lost loved ones, this is what I know: They're never truly gone. They'll always be part of your heart. I know this as well—and it seems unbelievable—but I promise you the day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before a tear to your eye. It will come, I promise you. My prayer for you is that they will come sooner rather than later. And that's when you know you're gonna be okay. You're gonna be okay."

Biden spoke about finding a purpose worthy of the lives our loved ones lived and asked all Americans to remain diligent about social distancing, masking, and getting vaccinated when it's your turn.

"We must end the politics and misinformation that's divided families, communities, and the country, and that's cost too many lives already," he said. "It's not Democrats and Republicans that are dying from the virus. It's our fellow Americans, it's our neighbors, our friends, our mothers, our fathers, our sons, our daughters, husbands and wives. We have to fight this together, as one people."

"Let this not be a story of how far we fell, but how far we climbed back up," he said. "We can do this. For in this year of profound loss, we've seen profound courage from all of you on the front lines. I know the stress, the trauma, and the grief you carry. But you keep us going. You remind us that we do take care of our own, that we leave nobody behind, and that while we've been humbled, we've never given up. We are America. We can and will do this."

Biden's whole speech is worth a watch. You can find it in its entirety along with the memorial candle ceremony here:

Biden Holds Memorial For 500,000 U.S. Covid Deaths | NBC News youtu.be

Thank you, President Biden, for marking this milestone with such compassion and for offering heartfelt words of wisdom and experience to those who are suffering the loss of loved ones to this virus. That empathy is what we've been desperately yearning for, as our shared humanity is the only thing that will get us through the crises we face without doing further damage to our nation.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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