Some of America’s most notable politicians were in attendance, including Vice President Mike Pence and Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for president, but all of them wore masks in addition to their customary memorial ribbons and lapel pins. They exchanged elbow bumps, then distanced themselves six feet apart as they stood for the national anthem.
It has been 19 years since passenger jets hijacked by terrorists slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost, some 2,700 of them in New York, in the deadliest attack in the country’s history, a blow to America’s psyche.
Now, the United States confronts a far deadlier calamity. During the pandemic, the United States has exceeded the death toll of Sept. 11, 2001, by orders of magnitude. In New York City alone, more than 23,000 people have died of the virus.
In both tragedies, the eyes of the nation turned to New York, looking to see how a city brought to its knees would stagger back to recovery.
“It’s two of the most traumatic things that have ever happened to New York City, and it’s probably changed it forever,” said Diane Massaroli, whose husband, Michael, was killed in the World Trade Center.
Having transformed so many aspects of daily life, the pandemic thus affected one of the city’s most sacred and solemn moments. The family members gathered at the Sept. 11 memorial’s eight-acre site in Lower Manhattan were asked to stay socially distant, and others were discouraged from gathering near the spot known as ground zero.