WASHINGTON (AP) – After nearly six months in office, battling a pandemic every step of the way, President Joe Biden was determined to party.
“It’s a statutory holiday weekend,” Biden said on Friday, addressing “negative” questions from reporters about the ongoing withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, “I’m going to celebrate it.”
Biden wants Americans to celebrate too, after suffering 16 months of pandemic disruption and more than 605,000 deaths. The White House has encouraged rallies and fireworks across the country to mark – as if ripped from a Hollywood script – the nation’s “independence” from the virus.
And there is cause for celebration: COVID-19 cases and deaths are at or near an all-time high since the start of the epidemic, thanks to the strong US vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants are open, hires are increasing, and travel is approaching pre-pandemic levels.
Yet this is hardly a “Mission Accomplished” moment. More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, a more infectious variant of the virus spreading rapidly at home and abroad, and tens of millions of Americans have chosen not to receive life-saving vaccines.
“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at John Cochran VA Medical Center and the St. Louis Board of Health. “If you haven’t received the vaccine you should be alarmed and that’s just the result, there’s no easy way to cut it off.”
“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this country is in a much better place,” she said.
Biden, who is set to host his presidency’s biggest event on the South Lawn of the White House on Sunday, sees it as a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he has championed. It will be the clearest indication to date that the United States has entered a new phase of responding to the virus, moving from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility and vaccination of Americans to the promotion of global health.
“July 4 of this year is different from July 4 of last year,” Biden said on Friday. “And it will be better next year.”
Senior officials in the Biden administration deployed across the country over the weekend to promote the dramatically improved viral situation under the banner of “America’s Back Together.”
It does not matter the president did not meet the vaccination target he had set out for the fourth with great pomp.
Biden had hoped to have 70% of the adult population vaccinated by Sunday, but has reached around 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials insisted that failure would have little practical effect on Americans’ ability to mark Independence Day.
What worries them more is the emergence of two disparate realities in the United States: the gap between highly vaccinated communities where the virus is disappearing and those less vaccinated where the virus is disappearing. new delta variant is already settling down.
About 1,000 counties have vaccination rates below 30%, and the federal government warns they could become the next hot spots as virus restrictions relax.
The administration sends surge teams to Colorado and Missouri. Additional teams of infectious disease experts, public health professionals, doctors and nurses are preparing to help in other places with a combination of low vaccination rates and increasing cases.
Overall, the vastly improved American landscape stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of the world, where there remain vast vaccine deserts and wide community distribution that could open the door to even more dangerous variants. The Biden administration is increasingly transforming the federal response to the complicated logistics of sending surplus US vaccines overseas in an effort to help other countries fend off the pandemic.
With U.S. demand for vaccines declining even though they have been widely available for months, and as governments and businesses dangle a slew of incentives for Americans to get vaccinated, officials are increasingly pointing out that the consequences of the disease now largely reflect the individual choices of these people. who are not yet vaccinated.
“The suffering and loss we are seeing now is almost entirely preventable,” said CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky.
Asked about the potential risks of organizing rallies around July 4 in areas where there are large pockets of unvaccinated individuals, White House press secretary Jen Psaki retorted that “if individuals are vaccinated in these areas, then they are protected ”.
At least 1,000 members and first responders were expected on the South Lawn for a barbecue and fireworks, the White House said. The outdoor event “is being done the right way,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in television interviews on Sunday and “complied” with CDC guidelines. The White House did not require a vaccination but asked guests to take a COVID-19 test and wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated.
“With so much work that remains to be done, it is so important to celebrate the victories,” said Davis. “I agree that we have these pockets of joy and celebration as long as we wake up again the next day and continue to work and prioritize equity in vaccine distribution. “