Registered nurse Lori Marie Key has been working on the frontlines since the beginning of the. On Tuesday, she honored the lives lost during the pandemic by performing a heartbreaking rendition of "Amazing Grace" at a memorial in Washington, D.C.
The ceremony, held at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, featured 400 lights to represent the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. The Presidential Inaugural Committee hosted the ceremony on the eve of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
Key first entered the spotlight in April when the U.S. was just starting to feel the devastating effects of COVID-19. She was assigned to the COVID unit at St. Mary Mercy Livonia in Michigan, and during a shift change one day, she decided to sing the hymn "Amazing Grace" for her coworkers in an attempt to uplift their spirits.
Within days, a video of the performance went viral, as deaths in Michigan surged well beyond 100 people per day.
Prior to performing the hymn once again on Tuesday, Key said the experience of being a COVID nurse is "heartbreaking" — for everyone involved.
"It was heartbreaking for the patients who were sick. It was heartbreaking for the families who couldn't be there with them. And it was heartbreaking for those caring for them," she said at the memorial. "But when I'm at work, I sing. It gives me strength during difficult times, and I believe it helps heal."
Prior to her performance, Mr. Biden said, "if there are any angels in heaven, they're all nurses."
"We know from our family experience what you do, the courage and pain you absorb for others," Mr. Biden said. "Thank you."
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said that the video of Key from April "inspired our nation."
"For many months we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together," Harris said. "Though we may be physically separated, we the American people, are united in spirit, and my abiding hope, my abiding prayer, is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom. To cherish the simple moments, to imagine the new possibilities and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another."
More than 24 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Wayne County, where Key's hospital is based, has seen more than 93,000 cases.