The president's announcement came the same day leading Democrats in Congress said they sent him a letter requesting such a move

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flags half mast
American flags fly at half-staff near the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C, in 2006.
| Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the federal government would fly flags at half-mast over Memorial Day weekend in tribute to the toll of tens of thousands of people — and mounting — who have been killed in the U.S. by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Trump's announcement came the same day leading Democrats in Congress said they sent him a letter requesting just such a move.

"We will soon cross the awful threshold of 100,000 Americans lost to the coronavirus. Flying the flags at half staff ... is an important show of national grief," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Thursday night. "Let us honor their memory & act to save lives."

In their letter to the president, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly wrote, "As we pay our respects to them, sadly, our country mourns the deaths of nearly 100,000 Americans from COVID-19. Our hearts are broken over this great loss and our prayers are with their families."

The president, 73, made the announcement about the flags on Twitter, his preferred medium for communicating with the American public.

He said the flags would be lowered to half-staff — the official phrase many use interchangeably with half-mast — at U.S. government buildings and national monuments from Friday-Sunday "in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus."

On Monday, flags would be lowered to honor slain service-members, Trump said.

According to a New York Times tracker, nearly 95,000 people in the U.S. had been killed by the coronavirus pandemic, with daily deaths averaging about 1,500, suggesting the total death toll will cross 100,000 on or around Memorial Day.

Nancy Pelosi; Donald Trump
From left: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Trump administration's coronavirus response has been heavily scrutinized.

While he has repeatedly touted his decisions to partially restrict travel from China and Europe as life-saving and said the government's work to increase the ventilator supply did not receive enough attention, detractors have pointed to early issues rolling out nationwide testing and the president's own tone about the virus, which he previously downplayed compared to the seasonal flu. He sometime public differs with his health officials over strategy as well.

Pelosi, who commended the president's decision to lower flags as Democrats had requested, has been a sharp critic of his coronavirus choices.

"What did he know and when did he know it? That's for an after-action review. But as the president fiddles, people are dying," Pelosi, 80, told CNN in late March, in the weeks after the administration's strategy changed course as they promoted national social distancing and other preventative measures.

"It's a vicious, vicious virus," Trump, who has attacked Democrats as "Do Nothings," told ABC News earlier this month when asked what he would say to victims' families.

"But I want to just say to the people that have lost family and have lost loved ones, and the people that have just suffered so badly, and just made it — and just made it — that we love you," Trump said then.

Researchers at Columbia University said this week that approximately 36,000 fewer people in the U.S. would have died from the virus had widespread stay-at-home orders had gone into place on March 8, about a week earlier than they started to.

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