WASHINGTON (AP) — Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do,” President Joe Biden on Sunday mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the pandemic. He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning that the fight against the virus wasn’t over.

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1,000 service members, first responders and other guests for a July Fourth celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.

For Biden it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed. The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication yet that the U.S. had moved into a new phase of virus response. Shifting from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.

“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.

Joe Biden celebrates progress against the COVID-19 virus

Biden: US ‘coming back together,’ but COVID not yet finished

Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “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. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Biden wanted all Americans to celebrate, too, after enduring 16 months of disruption in the pandemic and more than 605,000 deaths. The White House encouraged gatherings and fireworks displays all around the country to mark — as though ripped from a Hollywood script — the nation’s “independence” from the virus.

And there was much to cheer: Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust U.S. vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants were open, hiring was picking up and travel was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

However, Biden’s optimism was measured for good reason. The vaccination goal he had set with great fanfare for July Fourth70% of the adult population vaccinated — fell short at 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More concerning to officials was the gap between heavily vaccinated communities where the virus was dying out and lesser-vaccinated ones where a more infectious variant of the virus was already taking hold.

More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, and tens of millions have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccines.

“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis Board of Health. “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it.”

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this country is in a significantly better place,” she said.

Still, about 1,000 counties have a vaccination rate below 30%, and the federal government is warning that they could become the next hot spots as virus restrictions ease.

The administration was sending “surge” teams to Colorado and Missouri. Additional squads of infectious disease experts, public health professionals and doctors and nurses were getting ready to assist in additional locations with a combination of low vaccination rates and rising cases.

Overall, the vastly improved American landscape stood in stark contrast with much of the rest of the world, where there remained vast vaccine deserts and wide community spread that could open the door to even more dangerous variants. The Biden administration was increasingly turning the federal response to the complicated logistics of sending excess U.S. vaccines abroad in an effort to assist other nations in beating back the pandemic.

With U.S. demand for vaccines falling even as they have been widely available for months, and as governments and businesses dangled an array of incentives at Americans to get a shot, officials were increasingly emphasizing that the consequences of disease now largely reflect the individual choices of those who are not yet vaccinated.

“The suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable,” said the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

When asked about the potential risks of holding gatherings around July Fourth in areas where there are large pockets of unvaccinated individuals, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had countered that “if individuals are vaccinated in those areas, then they are protected.”

The cookout and fireworks viewing at the South Lawn was “being done in the right way,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in television interviews, and “consistent” with CDC guidelines. The White House was not requiring vaccinations but was asking guests to get a COVID-19 test and to wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated.

“For as much work there still is to do, it’s so important to celebrate the victories,” Davis said. “I’m OK with us having those pockets of joy and celebration as long as we still wake up the next day and continue to go to work and prioritize equity in vaccine distribution.”

Joe Biden touts US coronavirus progress at July 4 White House event: ‘America is coming back together’

(CNN) – President Joe Biden touted the nation’s progress against the coronavirus pandemic Sunday evening as he and first lady Jill Biden hosted their biggest party yet at the White House marking the July Fourth holiday.

“Today, all across this nation we can say with confidence America is coming back together,” the President said in remarks outside the White House. “245 years ago, we declared our independence from a distant king. Today, we are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”

The US, Biden said, is seeing “the results of the unity of purpose.”

“Together, we’re beating the virus. Together, we’re breathing life into our economy. Together, we will rescue our people from division and despair. But together, we must do it. Over the past year, we’ve lived through some of our darkest days,” he said. “Now I truly believe — I give my word as a Biden — I truly believe we are about to see our brightest future. Folks, this is a special nation.”

More than five months into their tenure, the Bidens used the July 4th holiday as an opportunity to host guests in person, and more than a thousand were anticipated to enjoy food and festivities for the Fourth on the South Lawn, culminating in fireworks on the National Mall.

Those invited were mostly military families and essential workers, who could bring their families, a nod of gratitude to service members and those who kept the country going during the darkest days of the pandemic.

But the celebration comes at a time when federal officials are warning about the Delta variant and doubling down on getting the rest of the US population vaccinated and protected.

The White House asked everyone attending on Sunday to get tested for Covid-19 before the event and wear masks if they are not fully vaccinated, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Psaki said all attendees received guidance that they should get tested for Covid-19 one to three days in advance of the event. She said those who are fully vaccinated can abide by public health guidelines and aren’t required to wear masks.

A White House official told CNN there is some concern about the optics of the holiday party now that the Delta variant is creeping its way across vulnerable populations of the United States.

“Do we wish we were doing this having completely eradicated Covid? Yes, of course,” said the official, noting there was never discussion about pulling the plug on the party. “We’re moving ahead — with this event, with the initiatives, with trying to get people vaccinated. All of it.”

The White House Covid-19 response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, earlier Sunday defended the White House’s decision not to require those who attend thefirst big bash to be vaccinated.

“I think most of these folks are vaccinated,” Zients told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” “But at the end of the day, it’s an individual choice, we hope all individuals make the right choice here and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

In a sign of the heightened concern about the variant, the White House announced last week that it would be deploying response teams made up of officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency across the US to areas with a high spread of the Delta variant. The teams will conduct surge testing, provide therapeutics like monoclonal antibodies and deploy federal personnel to areas that need support staff for vaccinations.

White House officials also recently acknowledged the nation would fall short of Biden’s July Fourth Covid-19 vaccination goals, saying the country has more work to do to get younger Americans vaccinated. The President had aimed to get 70% of US adults to have at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot and to have 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July Fourth. According to the CDC, as of Friday before the holiday weekend, 67% of US adults have had at least one shot.

“Today we have the power of science. Thanks to our heroic vaccine effort, we’ve gained the upper hand against this virus. We can live our lives. Oour kids can go back to school. Our economy is roaring back,” Biden said Sunday.

“Don’t get me wrong, Covid-19 has not been vanquished. We all know powerful variants have emerged like the Delta variant. But the best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated. My fellow Americans, it’s the most patriotic thing you can do,” he added.

“So please, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated. Do it. Do it now. For yourself, for your loved ones, for your community, and for your country.”

Zients told reporters last week that he expects the US to hit the vaccination goal in weeks, and on Sunday, he said the federal government would continue to make vaccines more accessible for the public to increase the numbers.

“Well, we made a lot of progress. I think we’re much further along than anyone would have anticipated at this point,” Zients told Bash, when asked why the administration fell short.

The party on Sunday was far larger than what was initially expected for the holiday. In March, Biden said he was hopeful that Americans would be able to gather with family and friends on July Fourth to celebrate the holiday in small groups in backyards as more and more Americans got vaccinated. Since then, because of the national vaccination effort, Covid-19 restrictions have been pulled back across the country and the CDC has said Americans who are fully vaccinated don’t have to wear masks indoors or outdoors in most situations.

The White House official told CNN there would be food stations at the party that include American favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers, chicken and other selections that reflect the holiday. The decorations will be substantial and more apparent than anything the Biden White House has put forward so far, according to one person familiar with the planning. The White House has enlisted outside events companies for help — something the Trump and Obama administrations also did for large-scale events.

The White House’s theme for the holiday weekend is “America’s Back Together,” promoting the idea that much of the nation is returning to pre-pandemic lifestyles as Americans get vaccinated. The President traveled to Traverse City, Michigan, on Saturday to tout the administration’s response to the pandemic and celebrate the progress that has been made.

The first lady, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also took trips on Friday and Saturday as part of the weekend celebrations. Biden’s Cabinet is deploying across the country to more than a dozen states to attend roundtables and baseball games and visit fire stations, festivals, parades, cookouts and more.

“It’s never, ever been a good bet to bet against America. Never!” Biden said as he concluded his remarks Sunday evening.
“We just have to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. And there is nothing — nothing we can’t do if we do it together.”

It’s OK to celebrate the Fourth with precautions, despite the pandemic, Fauci says

People can celebrate the Fourth of July as long as they take the appropriate precautions, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday, while urging people to “get vaccinated.”

Asked whether it was appropriate to hold a mass gathering and fireworks display on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as the pandemic continues, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said it was.

“It’s an appropriate time to step back and celebrate the progress we’ve made,” Zients said at a White House briefing.
“You can still celebrate at the same time as you get your message very, very clear,” Fauci agreed.

“That is, if you were vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection. If you are not, you should wear a mask, and you should think very seriously about getting vaccinated,” added Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
So, in so many respects, nothing has really changed. We are celebrating as a country at the same time as we recognize the fact that we’re in a serious situation for those who have not been vaccinated. And the message is: Get vaccinated.”

Holiday celebrations nonwithstanding, the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread and the nation has seen an increase in its seven-day average of Covid-19 cases, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The nation’s current seven-day average, covering June 23-29, is 12,609 cases per day, a 10% increase from the previous seven-day average of 11,428, covering June 16-22, said director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a virtual White House briefing.

And while the seven-day average has decreased 95% since January 10, Walensky said the Delta variant remains a serious threat and could cause more Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in unvaccinated communities, especially those in the Southeast and Midwest.

The Delta variant is predicted to be the second most prevalent variant in the United States, and I expect that in the coming weeks, it will eclipse the Alpha variant,” Walensky said.

The Alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7, was first seen in Britain. The Delta variant, known as B.1.617.2, was first seen in India.
Across the country, Walensky said, communities with low vaccination coverage remain vulnerable, especially due to the spread of the “hyper-transmissible Delta variant.”

“Currently, approximately 1,000 counties in the United States have vaccination coverage of less than 30%. These communities, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, are our most vulnerable,” Walensky said.

“In some of these areas, we are already seeing increasing rates of disease. As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people now.”

Federal teams to deploy in response to Delta variant

As concerns about the Delta variant grow, the Biden administration announced Thursday that it is deploying response teams across the US to areas with high spread of the virus, a White House official told CNN.

These teams will go into communities where officials are worried about a potentially deadly combination: low vaccination rates and a significant presence of the highly infectious Delta variant. The teams will be composed of officials from the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

These response teams will help to provide more testing, deploy federal personnel to areas that need support staff for vaccinations and provide therapeutics such as monoclonal antibodies.

However, officials believe vaccinations are the top way to stop the spread and recognize there could be a limit to their efforts. Most US adults who plan to get vaccinated against Covid-19 have already done so, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released this week.

“We want to be as clear as possible,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “If you have been vaccinated, the message we’re conveying is you’re safe … if you are not yet vaccinated, you are not safe and protected. That’s why you should go get vaccinated. It’s not more complicated than that in some regards.

Expert says mask guidance needs to be focused

With uneven vaccination rates across the US and the Delta variant now spotted in all 50 states, one health expert says the federal government’s mask guidance needs to be more focused.

“Part of the problem is that the CDC is trying to use a one-size-fits-all recommendation for the country rather than being a bit more surgical in identifying hot spot areas where transmission is accelerating,” Dr. Peter Hotez told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday.

Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, noted people in areas where vaccination rates are low and the virus is more prevalent may not want to do the same activities as people who live in areas where vaccination rates are high and the virus is more contained.

Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming have the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with less than 35% of their total population fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data from the CDC.

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont have fully vaccinated more than 60% of their total population, the data shows.
The CDC’s current mask guidance, which says fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors, needs to be more specific with the Delta variant in mind, Hotez said.

“I think that’s what we need from the CDC is to be able to cut it a little finer, come up with … a force of infection map that combines those two variables: the low vaccination rates, high Delta. Those places are at great risk for lots of transmission, including some vaccinated individuals who will have breakthrough infections.”

Breakthrough infections, while rare, happen when vaccinated people contract Covid-19. A recent CDC study showed that when vaccinated people are infected, they experience milder illness than unvaccinated people.

Fauci said Tuesday he doesn’t expect the CDC to make changes to its mask guidance but warned Americans must take the Delta variant seriously.

Experts: Children should mask up, even around fully vaccinated people

Children under 12 are another vulnerable group in the face of Covid-19 variants because federal officials have not cleared them to receive a vaccine.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Wednesday that children not yet vaccinated should still mask up, even if they’re around fully vaccinated people.

Fauci noted that vaccines make Covid-19 case surges “entirely avoidable, entirely preventable.”

“The vast majority of new infections are occurring among unvaccinated individuals,” Maldonado said in an email to CNN. “For these unvaccinated children, masking, distancing and avoiding large crowds is recommended.”

Hotez echoed Maldonado’s stance on children wearing masks.

“I would say right now, if your kids are old enough to wear masks, then they should when they’re indoors, at least until we can get our arms around this Delta variant,” said Hotez, noting that parents should take their area’s vaccination rate and variant levels into account.

Federal health officials plan to analyze vaccine data for children younger than 12 in the upcoming fall or winter, said Dr. Peter Marks, who heads the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Misinformation, mistrust and misperception

Former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Thursday there are three big issues when it comes to vaccine hesitancy in the United States: misinformation, mistrust and a misperception that access is no longer an issue for certain US communities.

“There are three big ‘mis-es’ that we have in terms of vaccine hesitancy,”Adams told CNN’s Erica Hill on “New Day.”
“One is misinformation. Two is mistrust. And the third is a misperception that access still isn’t an issue for many communities. For Black and Brown communities, for rural communities, access remains a problem.”

Adams told Hill that “mistrust is huge, misinformation, unfortunately, is all over the place and we need the federal government, I’m going to say this today in my testimony, to really have a full-court press on PSAs, on community engagement to combat that constant stream of misinformation.”

Adams was testifying Thursday at a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on vaccine hesitancy.
African American communities have “a good reason for mistrust,” he said, and Hispanic communities are afraid they will face immigration issues if they come in and get vaccinated.

Many rural communities have been put off by the politicization of the pandemic, Adams said, “and everyone’s responsible for that.” He said he has never heard someone say that they wouldn’t get vaccinated because they’re a Republican; rather, they say they don’t trust the government or medical institutions.

More research shows vaccines work and they’re highly effective

As of Thursday, 47% of the total US population is fully vaccinated, CDC data showed. In the past seven days, the US averaged 26.6 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people.

While still lagging, vaccination coverage among young adults is improving, CDC data shows. Over the past two weeks, the 18-24 age group made up 12.6% of those becoming fully vaccinated, the CDC said.

Meanwhile, a new study is highlighting the importance of vaccines and the protection they offer. The study examined nearly 4,000 frontline health and emergency workers shows that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines were 91% effective in preventing infection after two doses and 81% effective after a single dose.

“If you get vaccinated, about 90% of the time you’re not going to get COVID-19,” Dr. Jeff Burgess of the University of Arizona, which participated in the study, said in a statement. “Even if you do get it, there will be less of the virus in you and your illness is likely to be much milder.”

The team, led by CDC epidemiologist Mark Thompson, studied 3,975 health care personnel, first responders, and other essential and frontline workers.

The virus was detected in 204 participants, of whom five were fully vaccinated, 11 partially vaccinated and 156 unvaccinated, the report in the New England Journal of Medicine said.

Those who were vaccinated and got infected anyway had less virus in their bodies — 40% less, researchers added. Vaccinated people were 58% less likely to have fevers. “And the duration of illness was shorter, with 2.3 fewer days spent sick in bed,” the researchers said.