President-elect Joe Biden has appealed to Americans separated from their families during the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting on his own family’s losses, to draw on “faith, courage and sacrifice” during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Service to country, service to each other, and gratitude in the face of suffering have long been part of what Thanksgiving means in America,” he said in remarks from Delaware on Wednesday.
“We find ourselves again facing a long hard winter,” he said. “I know the country has grown weary of the fight … We’re at war with the virus, not with one another.”
His remarks sought to fill the absence of Donald Trump’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. Moments before the president-elect’s address, in stark contrast to a message that sought to calm a nation seeing millions of new infections in recent weeks, the president amplified baseless allegations of voter fraud and rigged elections, insisting that he won a second-term.
This week, the president and the federal agency overseeing the president-elect’s transition to the White House finally agreed to begin the interim process.
Mr Biden pledged an end to a “grim season of division and demonisation” as he invoked a message of hope in the difficult weeks to follow, as growing infection rates have surged the nation’s cases beyond 12.6 million since the onset of the outbreak. More than 260,00 Americans have died from Covid-19-related illness.
“Don’t let yourself surrender to the fatigue,” he said. “America is not going to lose this war. We’ll get our lives back. Life is going to return to normal, I promise you.”
The president-elect reminded Americans that the nation’s resilience in the face of challenges in the decades that preceded the public health crisis “can arm us from despair.”
“Knowing the previous generations got through the same universal human challenges we face – the tension between selfishness and generosity, fear and hope, division and unity,” he said.
What aligned the nation into its promise of equality, justice and prosperity, he said, “was love, plain and simple."
“Sounds corny,” he said. “To love our neighbors as ourselves is a radical act, yet it’s what we’re called to do.”
But the president-elect framed his remarks in the grim realities of the present, warning that the US is averaging more than 160,000 new infections each day and hospital systems across the country “are at risk of being overwhelmed”.
Warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have urged Americans to avoid traveling and stay home for Thanksgiving on 26 November. Travel officials reported that more than 2 million traveled by air on the previous weekend, one of the busiest periods for air travel since March.
On Tuesday, health officials reported more than 2,200 people died from the coronavirus, the single-highest daily death toll since early May. More than 230,000 Americans have died.
“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” according to CDC guidance.
Mr Biden said Americans must “try to slow the growth of the virus," calling it a “patriotic duty as Americans” in the face of the crisis. He urged people to wear masks and follow social-distancing guidelines.
He pledged on “Day One” of his presidency to “take steps that will change the course” of the pandemic.
The president-elect has committed to expanding testing capacity and supplying businesses and schools with protective gear, along with more guidance for reopenings.
He has also urged Congress to pass a relief package already approved by the House to address the crisis. Food banks have seen spikes in demand and millions of out-of-work Americans have been left without extended unemployment relief as they face looming evictions pending moratoriums set to expire in coming weeks.
In previous remarks and in campaign adverts, the president-elect has spoken directly to families impacted by the public health crisis, often referring to people missing loved ones at their kitchen tables or in empty beds.
That image became more clear as Americans who have lost family members to the disease observe the Thanksgiving holiday, as he reminded families to “forego many of the traditions that have long made this holiday such a special one.”
Mr Biden’s first wife Neilia and infant daughter Naomi died in a car accident in 1972, weeks before he would enter his first-term as US senator; his son Beau Biden died in 2015 following a brain cancer diagnosis.
“For those who have lost loved ones, I know this time of year is especially difficult,” he said. “I remember that first Thanksgiving – the empty chair, the silence. It takes your breath away.”
“I will be thinking and praying for each and every one of you at our Thanksgiving table because we’ve been there,” he said.