President-elect Joe Biden has led a national memorial observance on the eve of his inauguration to honour the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 during the 11 months since the novel coronavirus claimed its first US victim.
The sundown commemoration came just hours before President Donald Trump was due to leave the White House and hand over a country in crisis.
The ceremony, spearheaded by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris from the base of the Lincoln Memorial, marked the federal government's first official nod to the staggering death toll from the pandemic.
"We must remember. It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation," Biden said in brief remarks to kick off a tribute that was to include observances in cities across the country.
As darkness fell over the nation's capital, 400 electric lamps lining the sides of the Reflecting Pool were illuminated to honour the 400,000 lives lost, followed by gospel singer Yolanda Adams' performance of the song Hallelujah, then a moment of silence in memory of the dead.
"Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are united in spirit," Harris said separately.
About 7km from where Biden appeared, the bells of the National Cathedral were tolled 400 times after he spoke.
The United States on Tuesday surpassed 24 million COVID-19 infections and 400,000 lives lost from the virus, according to a Reuters tally.
The country has recorded more than 200,000 new cases and 3,220 deaths on average over the past seven days.
Among the other landmarks participating in the lighting ceremony were the Empire State building in New York City and the Space Needle in Seattle.
Local officials from Miami, Florida, to San Diego, California, said buildings in their cities were expected to be specially illuminated for the occasion.
The observance marked the beginning of a new era in the country's battle against COVID-19 under Biden, who has pledged to make coronavirus relief a top priority when he takes office on Wednesday under unprecedented security measures in the nation's capital.
Biden will inherit a grieving and sickened nation from Trump, who critics say was to blame for a disjointed and ineffectual response to the pandemic, resulting in the US suffering the highest COVID-19 national death toll in the world.
Biden will also face the daunting task of overseeing the nation's COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration.
The US is trailing in its vaccination goal, with only 12.3 million shots administered out of more than 31 million distributed as of January 15.
Australian Associated Press