Biden and Harris will be sworn into office on Wednesday

Hours after the United States surpassed 400,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and as vaccine distribution continued across the country, the country's next leaders marked the grim milestone with a memorial service in the nation's capital.

At a solemn ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris each took turns Tuesday night memorializing COVID-19's victims.

Nurse Lori Marie Key sang "Amazing Grace," performer Yolanda Adams sang Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Cardinal Wilton Gregory gave the invocation.

Biden, in a brief speech, drew on his own history of loss.

"To heal, we must remember. And it is hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal," he said. It is important to do that as a nation. That is why we are here today."

As he went on, the lights around the pool alit. "Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we have lost," he said.

Harris echoed that in her own remarks.

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From left: Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris, Dr. Jill Biden and Joe Biden at a memorial for COVID-19 victims on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty
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Joe Biden speaks at a memorial for COVID-19 victims on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
| Credit: Al Drago/Getty Images

"We gather tonight, a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to the lives we have lost: a grandmother or grandfather who was our whole world; a parent, partner, sibling or friend who we still cannot accept, is no longer here," Harris said. "And for many months, we have grieved by ourselves."

"Tonight," she said, "we grieve — and begin healing — together."

The reflecting pool was lit to "honor those who have died" throughout the ongoing pandemic, the Presidential Inaugural Committee previously said.

The committee encouraged communities and individual Americans to participate in the memorial, asking U.S. officials nationwide to "light up city buildings" in light amber. The organizers told people around the country to light candles in their windows to mark what they called "a national moment of unity and remembrance."

Biden, 78, and Harris, 56, have said that getting the pandemic under control will be their administration's most pressing initial mission. Both have routinely met with health officials during the transition period, since they were elected in November.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal aimed at combatting the health crisis and the economic downturn it has caused since businesses began shutting down last March.

"We are ready to get this done," Biden said last week. "The very health of our nation is at stake."

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Lights line the National Mall in honor of the lives lost to COVID-19
| Credit: PATRICK T. FALLON/Getty Images
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A COVID-19 memorial on Tuesday at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., organized by Joe Biden's inaugural team.
| Credit: PATRICK T. FALLON/Getty Images

Wednesday's inaugural ceremonies typically make for a bustling atmosphere in the nation's capital. However, the pandemic has upended many Inauguration Day plans.

Local officials and the event organizers have asked the public to watch the swearing-in from their homes, in an effort to avoid the types of large public gatherings linked to the coronavirus' spread.

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From left: Dr. Jill Biden, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at a memorial for COVID-19 victims on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

No members of the public will be able to attend, with tickets limited to two for each member of Congress, according to the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, a Senate committee overseeing the events.

Biden and Harris said they'll still take the oaths of office on the west front of the U.S. Capitol building, however — despite the lack of crowd and amid heightened security concerns in the aftermath of this month's deadly insurrection by a mob of pro-Trump supporters.

Former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are expected to attend the inauguration along with former First Ladies Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

Outgoing President Donald Trump, who shared his farewell address via YouTube on Tuesday night, has said he will not attend.