White House to Host July 4 ‘Independence From Virus’ Bash

Washington (AP) -
Fireworks light up the sky above the Brooklyn Bridge during Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks show in New York in 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

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.

Even as the U.S. is set to cross the grim milestone of 600,000 deaths from the virus on Tuesday, the White House is expressing growing certainty that July Fourth will serve as a breakthrough moment in the nation’s recovery. That’s even though the U.S. is not expected to quite reach its goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated by the holiday.

As COVID-19 case rates and deaths drop to levels not seen since the first days of the outbreak, travel picks up and schools and businesses reopen, Biden is proclaiming “a summer of freedom” to celebrate Americans resuming their prepandemic lives.

The holiday will see the largest event yet 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. Well more than 1,000 guests are expected, officials said, with final arrangements still to be sorted out.

The plan shows the dramatic shift in thinking since Biden just three months ago cautiously held out hope that people might be able to hold small cookouts by the Fourth, an idea that seems quaint now given the swift pace of reopening.

“By July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and 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 had said as he marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic on March 11. “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.”

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 the accompanying relaxation in state and local virus restrictions.

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.

Across the country, the White House is hoping to see similar Independence Day activities, after last year saw the mass cancellation of July Fourth festivities, according to two White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline the administration’s thinking.

“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 plans to be highlighted later by the administration.