In March of this year, in a speech marking the one year anniversary of COVID-19 officially being named a pandemic, President Joe Biden laid out a cautiously optimistic vision of what July 4th could look like if Americans “do their part” by getting vaccinated.
“If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4, 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 or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden said. “That doesn't mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.”
On Sunday, to mark the United States’ 245th birthday, Biden welcomed 1,000 military personnel and essential workers to the White House to celebrate the country’s “independence from the virus,” according to an administration official — a return to normalcy for many Americans despite falling short of the president's July 4th vaccination goal.
"Today, we celebrate America. Our freedom, our liberty, our independence," Biden said in his remarks at the White House. "The Fourth of July is a sacred day in our country. A day of history, of hope, remembrance and resolve, of promise and possibilities.
"Today we celebrate America,” Biden said. “We stand as a beacon to the world.”
Biden celebrated America's progress against the COVID-19 pandemic, but conceded that there is more to do to beat the coronavirus.
"My fellow Americans, it’s the most patriotic thing you can do," Biden said, urging Americans to get vaccinated. "We don’t want to go back to where we were a year ago today."
Biden said the country has “gained the upper hand against this virus,” but added: "Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 has not been vanquished. We all know powerful variants have emerged, like the delta variant."
"We just have to remember who we are," the president said. "We are the United States of America and there’s nothing, nothing we can’t do if we do it together."
"The American creed is that we’re all equal — and it’s never ever been a good bet to bet against America," Biden said. "We are the United States of America."
The barbecue at the White House is the first large-scale event hosted by the Biden administration since taking office in January. At the event, he honored first responders and military service members, saying they "became the light to see us through the darkness."
Biden also honored the more than 600,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States.
"This day falls hard on all those who’ve lost a loved one," the president said. "Each day, I carry a card in my pocket with my schedule on it. On the back of that schedule, on that card, I have the number of Americans who’ve lost their lives to COVID."
Though Biden doubled his initial goal of 100 million vaccine doses administered in 100 days, the U.S. fell slightly short of his goal of 70% of U.S. adults with at least one dose of the vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67% of the U.S. adult population has gotten at least one vaccine dose, with 58.1% — more than 150 million Americans — fully vaccinated.
“The American people should be proud of the work that we've collectively done, and we want to recognize that progress,” Jeff Zients, coordinator for the White House COVID-19 Response team, said Thursday.
The U.S. is currently vaccinating around 900,000 people per day, up from the previous week but lower than averages above 1.3 million in mid-June, and well below the peak of about 3.5 million per day in April.
An analysis from the Washington Post predicts that the U.S. will hit Biden’s July 4th goal by August.
Biden will deliver remarks at the event, which will also feature the traditional fireworks on the National Mall.
“DC is open and ready to welcome back visitors to celebrate the way we came together as a city and as a nation this year. We have shown once again that when we come together, there is nothing we can’t do,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, an ally of the president, said in a statement last month. “We thank President Biden and his team for acting with urgency to get the vaccine to the American people so that we could save lives, get our country open, and celebrate together once again.”
But the successes against COVID come against the backdrop of the highly contagious delta variant, which is spreading in unvaccinated pockets of the country. Delta accounts for 1 in 4, or 25%, of new COVID-19 cases in the United States, and is on track to become the dominant strain in the country, per the CDC.
Federal health officials said this week that the government stands ready to send COVID-19 surge response teams to areas of the country with low vaccination rates, as the contagious delta variant spreads throughout the country, especially in states with fewer shots in arms.
“In some communities in the country, we're intensifying our efforts to help states prevent, detect and respond to hotspots among the unvaccinated by mobilizing COVID-19 surge response teams,” Zients said.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that the mutation was the second-most prevalent in the U.S., accounting for 25% of cases, but she expects it to become the most common in a matter of weeks. She warned that delta poses the most threat to people who are not vaccinated.
“Communities where people remain unvaccinated are communities that remain vulnerable,” Walensky said.
“The good news we have is that we have a solution,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, countered. "The science is clear. The best way to protect yourself against the virus, and its variants, is to be fully vaccinated.”
The president said Friday that he is “concerned” about “people who have not gotten vaccinated have the capacity to catch the variant and spread it to other people who have not been vaccinated,” but noted he is “not concerned that there's going to be a major outbreak.”
Still, Biden expressed optimism for a brighter future ahead: “The Fourth of July this year is different than the Fourth of July last year and it will be better next year.”
“The Fourth of July is a moment for us to step back and celebrate our progress. We have made tremendous progress in our fight against the virus,” Zients said. "At the same time, there's a lot more work to do."