‘A summer of freedom’: Vaccine gives new meaning to July 4th

  • In this April 30 file photo, a family takes a photo in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae Hong, File)

WASHINGTON — 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.

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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.

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.”

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The upbeat announcement contrasts with the drearier reality in Europe, where Biden is on an eight-day tour, and in the rest of the world as vaccines remain scarce.

“The administration needs to walk a line, using events like this to increase vaccine interest and confidence here in the U.S. while also being sensitive to the fact that this crisis is still out of control in many parts of the world,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the Division of Health Policy and Public Health.

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