(AP) — Get ready for the celebrations.
President Joe Biden
wants to give Independence Day new meaning this year by encouraging nationwide celebrations to mark the country's effective return to normalcy after a 16-month disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic
Even as the United States
approaches the grim milestone of 600,000 deaths from the virus on Tuesday, the White House is expressing growing confidence that July Fourth will serve as a watershed moment in the nation's recovery, despite the fact that the country is unlikely to reach its goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated by the holiday.
As COVID-19 case rates and deaths fall to levels not seen since the outbreak's early days, travel resumes, and schools
and businesses reopen, Biden declares "a summer of freedom" to commemorate Americans returning to their pre-pandemic lives.
The holiday will see the largest event of Biden's presidency: he plans to host first responders, essential workers, and military
service members and their families on the South Lawn for a cookout and to watch
the fireworks over the National Mall. More than 1,000 guests are expected, with final arrangements still being finalized, officials said.
The plan demonstrates Biden's dramatic shift in thinking since he cautiously held out hope three months ago that people
might be able to hold small cookouts by the Fourth of July, an idea that now seems quaint given the speed with which the government is reopening.
“By July 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families, and your friends
will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbeque and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden said on March 11, marking the one-year anniversary
of the pandemic.
For most Americans, the reopening target was met last month, by Memorial Day
weekend, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
relaxed mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated people, as well as state and local virus restrictions.
Officials say the Fourth of July will serve as an unofficial start to a new phase in the United States' pandemic response, with the federal government looking to turn the page on the domestic public health
crisis and focus on an economic and civic revival at home, as well as rallying support for vaccinations
around the world.
According to two White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline the administration's thinking, the White House is hoping to see similar Independence Day activities across the country, after last year saw a mass cancellation of July Fourth festivities.
“We invite you to join us by hosting your own events to honor our freedom, salute those who have served on the frontlines, and celebrate our progress in fighting this pandemic,” the White House wrote in an email to state and local officials on Tuesday, asking them to share their plans, which will be highlighted later by the administration.
The traditional fireworks display will take place on Washington's National Mall, according to the White House.
“America is about to embark on a summer that will be markedly different from last year,” the administration wrote to officials, “a summer of freedom. A summer of joy. A summer of reunions and celebrations.”
The upbeat announcement contrasts with the grim reality in Europe
, where Biden is on an eight-day, three-country tour — not to mention much of the rest of the world, where vaccines
are still scarce.
Instead of celebrating a mission accomplished, the government of the United Kingdom
, one of the few countries with a vaccination rate comparable to that of the United States, announced Monday that it will delay reopening for at least another month in order to get more people vaccinated; however, cases in the United Kingdom, unlike in the United States, are increasing, and not all adults, nor children
, have been offered a vaccine.
While in Europe, Biden and his Group of Seven
allies announced plans to provide 1 billion vaccines to poorer countries, half of which would come from the United States, but aid groups said a far greater commitment is required to defeat the virus globally.
Still, the vaccination campaign in the United States is far from over, with fewer than 370,000 Americans receiving their first dose on average each day, down from nearly 2 million two months ago.
Officials from the White House acknowledged that there are still significant geographic disparities in vaccination rates, and that the administration will continue to remind Americans that if they are not vaccinated, they are at risk of serious illness and death from the virus.
For the past two months, all American adults have been eligible for vaccinations, and the administration has launched an aggressive “month of action” to increase demand for doses, but this has done little to change the trend lines: fewer Americans are interested in getting vaccinated.
Officials say the effects of Biden's July 4 vaccination goal of 70% of Americans on driving
down COVID-19 cases are already being felt, even if the target will not be met. According to CDC
data, 166.5 million adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
, and Biden would need to vaccinate about 14 million more in less than three weeks to reach his target.
“Regardless of where we are on July Fourth, we are not closing shop,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki
said last week. “On July 5th, we will continue to press for more people across the country to be vaccinated.”
president plans to use his remarks on July 4 to highlight the administration's "wartime response," which includes a vaccination campaign that has helped reduce cases and deaths by roughly 90% since he took office on Jan. 20.
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