Hours after the US crossed the threshold of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, President Biden commemorated the lives lost over the past year on Monday night. No other country has lost more dynamism to the yearlong pandemic than the US.

“Today, we mark a bleak, heartbreaking milestone,” he said in a brief speech at the White House. “500,071 dead. That’s more Americans who died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.”

Remembrance, Mr. Biden said, is an essential part of the healing process for both individuals and the nation. Shortly before the event, the president ordered the flags at the White House lowered to half staff. Candles graced the White House residence steps to the South Lawn, as the president, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff looked out over the South Lawn in a moment of silence.

“That’s how you heal — you have to remember,” Mr. Biden said. “And it’s also important to do that as a nation. For those who have lost loved ones, here’s what I know: They’re never truly gone. They’ll always be part of your heart.”

The president called on the country to press forward in taking precautions to prevent more deaths. He said it’s not about politics — it’s about neighbors, friends, daughters and sons, husbands and wives.

“We have to fight this as one people. As the United States of America … the only way to spare more pain and more loss, the only way,” he said.