President Biden declared Sunday that “America is coming back together” after more than a year of “pain, fear and heartbreaking loss,” but added that the coronavirus pandemic “has not been vanquished” and urged Americans to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.
“This year, the 4th of July is a day of special celebration,” Biden said in remarks from the South Lawn of the White House, “for we are emerging from the darkness of … a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain, fear and heartbreaking loss.
The White House had urged state, local and tribal authorities to hold Independence Day celebrations around the country as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reach lows not seen since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. The president and first lady Jill Biden welcomed 1,000 essential workers and military family members to the White House for a barbecue, the largest event of the Biden presidency to date. Attendees were asked to take a COVID test and wear a mask if they were not fully vaccinated.
In remarks that lasted about 15 minutes, Biden tried to strike a balance between the celebration of America’s freedom with remembrance of the more than 600,000 Americans who lost their lives to the virus.
“In this moment of joy, we know that this day falls hard on all of those who have lost a loved one,” said Biden before reading out the official number of virus deaths from a schedule card: 603,018.
At another point, Biden likened the American Revolution to the struggle against the pandemic, saying: “245 years ago, we declared our independence from a distant king. Today, we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.
“That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over,” Biden went on. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. But just as our declaration in 1776, was a call to action, not a reason for complacency or claim of victory, it was a call to action. The same is true today.”
In May, Biden announced a goal of having 70 percent of America’s adult population receive at least one vaccine dose. The administration came up short of that goal; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Sunday that 67.1 percent of Americans over 18 (more than 173 million people) had received at least one shot.
Approximately 1,000 counties in the US have a vaccination rate below 30 percent, and health officials warn those places could be outbreak hotspots as the Delta variant, first discovered in India, becomes the dominant strain across the country. Hours before Biden spoke, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci suggested that fully vaccinated Americans wear masks if they are traveling to areas where vaccination rates are low.
“The best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated,” Biden emphasized Sunday evening. “My fellow Americans, it’s the most patriotic thing you can do.”
Later, Biden struck an optimistic tone by saying that while “the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation, and it’s within our power to make sure it never does again.”