Biden marks 'independence' from Covid, pandemic woes persist
President Joe Biden prepared to throw a huge Independence Day party Sunday to hail America's defeat of Covid-19, amid lingering concern that pockets of the country with low vaccination rates remain in the grip of the pandemic.
The president and First Lady Jill Biden will welcome 1,000 military personnel and their families, plus essential workers, for the largest event at the White House since he took office.
A fireworks display that traditionally draws thousands to the National Mall - echoed by similar events across the country - will allow the president to mark what he is calling "independence from this virus."
A White House official said in a statement the president would celebrate progress against the virus but note that the job is "far from over."
"He will urge every American to join the fight - to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated - and reiterate his administration's redoubled efforts to boost vaccinations," the official added.
During last year's holiday, with the pandemic near its summer peak and towns across America reeling from protests over racism and police brutality, Washington saw a fraction of the visitors it usually welcomes.
After leading the world in Covid deaths, however - more than 600,000 - the United States has emerged as a model for getting the coronavirus under control.
With hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 down 90 percent since January and the country largely reopened, the message from the South Lawn will be unmistakable: what a difference a year makes.
"We do have a lot to celebrate. We are much further along than I think anyone anticipated in this fight against the pandemic," Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told ABC.
But jubilation will be tempered by the White House falling just short of its much-promoted vaccination goal of getting seven in 10 adults their first shot by Independence Day.
Opponents of the White House event have voiced concern that images of nationwide partying could send the wrong message, with only 46 percent of Americans fully inoculated, and areas with low vaccination take-up awash with the highly contagious Delta variant.
Public health officials have highlighted swaths of rural America where hospitals are starting to fill up again, especially in Utah, Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming.
Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease expert, told NBC unvaccinated people now account for 99.2 percent of Covid-19 deaths.
The celebration will be another chance for Biden to talk up the country's economic outlook as he walks a tightrope on his legislative priorities going into the summer.
Negotiations continue on a bipartisan infrastructure deal and fractious debate within his Democratic Party looms on a much broader spending package that has no support from Republicans.
The president visited a cherry farm in Michigan on Saturday to tout a positive June employment report hailed as a sign of America's economic resurgence.
The administration has also sent cabinet secretaries and other officials to sports events, cookouts and festivals nationwide as part of its "America's Back Together" celebration.
The White House - at least outwardly - continues to brim with confidence. Six in 10 respondents in a new poll by The Washington Post and ABC News give Biden positive ratings for his handling of the pandemic.
Images of a crowded South Lawn will be reflected in scenes of celebration across the country, with New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and other cities all putting on their own shows.
On the west coast, San Diego was readying to stage one of the largest July 4 parties in the country, with fireworks discharged from four barges around the bay.
California Senator Alex Padilla called Independence Day "a reminder of the American dream."
"The best way to celebrate Independence Day is by taking a moment to acknowledge all the hard work that it took to get here," he said.