WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden wants to imbue Independence Day with new meaning this year by encouraging nationwide celebrations to mark the country’s effective return to normalcy after 16 months of coronavirus pandemic disruption and more than 600,000 lives lost.
The White House is expressing growing certainty that July Fourth will serve as a breakthrough moment in the nation’s recovery, even though the U.S. is expected to fall short of its goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated by the holiday. Still, the pace of the nation’s healing will be a stark contrast with the rest of the world struggling to vanquish the virus.
The planned celebration will be the largest event of Biden’s presidency and is designed to demonstrate the nation’s victory over the virus as COVID-19 cases and deaths drop to levels not seen since the first days of the outbreak. The U.S. is seeing its highest rate of air travel since the pandemic began, and schools, businesses and restaurants are rapidly reopening.
To celebrate the resumption of pre-pandemic life, Biden is looking to celebrate the July Fourth holiday as “a summer of freedom.”
He plans to host first responders, essential workers and military service members and their families on the South Lawn of the White House for a cookout and to watch the fireworks over the National Mall. More than 1,000 guests are expected, officials said.
The plan shows the dramatic shift in thinking since Biden cautiously held out hope just three months ago that people might be able to hold small cookouts by the Fourth.
For most Americans, that reopening target was hit last month, by Memorial Day weekend, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people and state and local virus restrictions also eased.
Now, officials say July Fourth will serve as an unofficial kickoff to a new phase in the U.S. pandemic response. The federal government is looking to turn the page on the domestic public health crisis and focus on an economic and civic revival at home and marshaling support for vaccinations around the globe.
The White House is hoping to see similar Independence Day activities across the country, a year after the virus forced a mass cancellation of festivities.
“We welcome you to join us by hosting your own events to honor our freedom, salute those who have been serving on the frontlines, and celebrate our progress in fighting this pandemic,” the White House wrote in an email to state and local officials Tuesday. It asked them to share their own plans, which the administration would later highlight.
“America is headed into a summer dramatically different from last year,” the administration wrote to officials. “A summer of freedom. A summer of joy. A summer of reunions and celebrations.”
All American adults have been eligible for vaccine shots for two months, and the administration has mounted an aggressive “month of action” to try to drive up demand for doses, though that has done little to change the trend lines: Fewer Americans are interested in getting vaccinated.
Officials say the effects of the July Fourth vaccination goal of 70% of Americans on driving down COVID-19 cases are already being felt even if the benchmark won’t be attained. Some 166.5 million adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. To reach his goal, Biden would need to vaccinate about 14 million more people in less than three weeks.
“Regardless of where we are on July Fourth, we’re not shutting down shop,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week. “On July 5th, we’re going to continue to press to vaccinate more people across the country.”
Biden intends to use his remarks on July Fourth to highlight the administration’s “wartime response,” with a vaccination campaign that helped bring cases and deaths down by about 90% from where they were before he took office on Jan. 20.