When President Joe Biden welcomed 1,000 essential workers and military personnel to the South Lawn to celebrate Independence Day this weekend, he fulfilled — and even exceeded — his March prediction that this year’s July 4th celebrations would look more like they used to.
But beneath the joy, there was a nagging fear that pockets of the United States would remain in the grip of the pandemic, awash in cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant and populated by people who refused to get vaccinated.
Despite the fact that a crowded South Lawn represented scenes of celebration across the country, the administration’s concerns about the virus’s continued spread remain strong. The administration announced this week that it would dispatch response teams across the US to communities where officials are concerned about a potentially deadly combination: low vaccination rates and a significant presence of the highly transmissible virus.
According to people present, Biden has questioned advisers in private meetings about the broader impact the highly contagious variant could have on the US. He continues to receive daily reports on case rates, death rates, and variant prevalence. Officials have stated that those who have been vaccinated are safe, while those who have not been vaccinated are the most vulnerable.
Officials also said the administration plans to extend the public health emergency declaration for the pandemic that former President Donald Trump announced in 2020 when it expires this month, indicating that the pandemic is far from over.
And, despite increased pressure from foreign governments and the travel industry to open up, foreign travel to countries where the Delta variant is resurgent, such as the United Kingdom, is still on hold. Officials are hoping to avoid new cases coming into the US. A senior health official told CNN that the rise of the Delta variant in the UK is the “primary reason” the US hasn’t eased travel restrictions there. An administration official stated that their goal is to reopen international travel as soon as it is safe to do so, but did not provide a timeline for when that will happen. Working groups between the United States and other countries are constantly assessing the situation.
The White House’s approach to the second pandemic-era Fourth of July holiday has been colored by competing impulses to celebrate progress against the virus while remaining vigilant against further spread.