Americans celebrated their nation’s 245th birthday on Sunday with fireworks, hot dogs, marching bands and a sense of great relief, after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of nearly all celebrations last year.
As they did so, a senior administration official tried to explain why vaccines and masks weren’t mandatory for a major White House party, when he and other aides to Joe Biden were emphasizing the need for Americans to cut back on chances of an increase in cases. of the infectious Delta variant.
Speaking to CNN’s State of the Union, coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said: “You are protected if you are vaccinated. You are not protected if you are not. We are not demanding vaccinations.
“At the White House tonight, there are very rigorous testing and screening protocols. Those who are vaccinated do not need to wear a mask. Those who are not vaccinated do need to wear a mask. “
A day after the 78-year-old president mingled with mostly maskless crowds at a cherry picking festival in Michigan, about 1,000 people were invited to his July 4 celebration on the White House lawn.
“We are there to celebrate frontline workers and our military,” Zients said. “And these are people who understand the importance of safety and do the right thing. I think most of these people are vaccinated and we encourage all Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible. “
When asked why vaccination was not mandatory, Zients said: “At the end of the day, it is an individual choice. We hope that everyone will make the right decision here and get vaccinated as soon as possible. “
Speaking to ABC’s This Week, Zients insisted: “The event at the White House is being done in the right way. It is an open-air event with tests and screening. Vaccinated people without masks. Masked unvaccinated people. It is being done the right way, according to [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.
“That said, we are redoubling our efforts during the summer months, we will vaccinate millions more people because it is necessary to be vaccinated to be protected against the Delta variant and against this disease in general.”
The Biden administration failed in its goal of having 70% of adult Americans with at least one chance by the holiday weekend.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci warned of likely spikes in Delta variant cases in areas with low vaccination rates, often due to resistance among Republicans loyal to former President Donald Trump.
In the first year of the pandemic, Trump staged a series of events at the White House with imperfect public health measures, followed by increases in Covid cases. Trump himself was hospitalized, reportedly with a more serious case than admitted.
Biden was scheduled to address his own White House event, on the theme of “Covid-19 Independence and Independence Day.”
After dark in Washington, the National Mall was to host a huge fireworks display, a 17-minute cannonade from the Lincoln Memorial. On Capitol Hill, marching bands organized a traditional parade.
New York was also poised to host a major fireworks event, for which 50 pyrotechnicians spent days loading more than 65,000 projectiles onto five barges on the East River.
In Ocean City, Maryland, fireworks were unintentionally set off while being installed, leaving fireworks company employees slightly injured, authorities said. Numerous videos posted on social media showed fireworks exploding and cracking near a crowded beach.
No customers on the beach or boardwalk were injured, the fire department said. The city said fireworks displays were canceled at several locations.
Some classic events with a national profile, like Nathan’s famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island in Brooklyn, were scaled down to allow for social distancing in recognition of a pandemic that has killed more than 605,000 in the US.
In Florida, several cities canceled fireworks out of respect for the victims of the building collapse in Surfside, near Miami, last month. Trump went ahead with a rally near Sarasota on Saturday, despite suggestions from aides to Gov. Ron DeSantis that he shouldn’t.
It was expected to be the busiest July 4 for car travel on record, with an estimated 43.6 million Americans on the roads, 5% more than in 2019, the American Automobile Association said.
But for some, July 4 was still a bleak occasion. In addition to the blanket of the pandemic and the collapse of a building in Florida, the western US faces an increased risk of wildfires after a heat wave and amid extremely dry conditions.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security warned state and local police this week of an increased threat of violence from domestic extremist groups.