Fourth of July 2021: Celebrations Sparkle Amid Loosened Covid-19 Restrictions
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Fireworks mark the country's independence from the virus
Americans marked their nation’s 245th birthday on Sunday with fireworks that may look brighter, hotdogs that may taste juicier and marching bands that may sound jauntier after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of nearly all celebrations last year, Reuters reported.
As always, fireworks displays are the highlight of the July Fourth holiday. Two of the biggest pyrotechnic shows in the country will blast off over the National Mall in Washington, and over a mile stretch of New York City's East River, separating Manhattan from the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.
Now that more than 150 million American adults are fully vaccinated, the holiday looks more like it used to: family gatherings, parades, barbecues and, of course, lots of fireworks.
|People gather at Coney Island beach in New York City on Sunday.David Dee Delgado/Getty Images|
|People gather at Rehoboth Beach for July Fourth celebrations on Saturday, in Delaware.Chuck Snyder/USA Today Network|
According to CNBC, President Joe Biden hosted an Independence Day party on Sunday with 1,000 essential workers and military families on the South Lawn of the White House, marking the first large-scale event held by the president. He delivered remarks on the progress the U.S. has made against the virus.
“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration for we are emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain, fear and heartbreaking loss,” Biden said during remarks given on the White House South Lawn.
“Just think back to where this nation was a year ago, think back to where you were a year ago, and think about how far we have come,” Biden said. “From silent streets to crowded paraded routes lined with people waving American flags.”
“From empty stadiums and arenas to fans back to their seats cheering together again. From families pressing hands against a window to grandparents hugging their grandchildren once again. We’re back travelling again, we’re back seeing each other one again,” Biden said.
|Men dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers fire a volley prior to the baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins on Sunday, in Atlanta. Ben Margot/AP|
|A participant chugs beer during the 47th annual Hermosa Beach Ironman competition in California. Competitors run a mile, paddle a surfboard a mile and chug a six pack of beer.Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images|
|People carry an American flag during the Coronado Fourth of July Parade on Saturday, in Coronado, California.Daniel Knighton/Getty Images|
Elsewhere in Washington, marching bands stepped off on Sunday in a traditional parade on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row. As darkness falls, the National Mall was expected to draw big crowds to a 17-minute fireworks display set off from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
As reported by Globalnews, on New York’s East River, 50 pyrotechnicians have spent days loading more than 65,000 shells on five barges to wow audiences watching the spectacular show either in person or on television. The display is presented by Macy’s department store.
Lighting up the night’s sky not only delights crowds but also promises to restore a lifeline this year for the businesses that supply the 16,000 July Fourth fireworks displays that typically occur in cities and towns. Last year, only a “scant few” went on with the show, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
“Approximately 70% are scheduled to return, and many will be bigger and better than pre-pandemic levels,” Heckman said.
Threats remain amid more transmissible Covid-19 strains
A new, more contagious delta variant is now responsible for more than 1 in 4 U.S. infections, largely among people who have not been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The spread of the delta variant is alarming health officials worldwide. The number of new coronavirus cases increased across Europe for the first time in 10 weeks, the World Health Organization said Thursday. In the United States, health officials in Los Angeles County are recommending that even vaccinated people wear face coverings indoors. The White House has announced it will scramble “surge response” teams to combat the highly transmissible variant.
|Bobby Florez lights fireworks with his nephew Kaden Perez, 5, as a lightning storm passes by in the distance Friday night, July 2, in Odessa, Texas. Eli Hartman/AP|
|People enjoy the fireworks as they gather for the annual Independence Day celebration at the National Mall in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2021. (REUTERS)|
That backdrop for Sunday’s celebration suggests the tensions that Biden’s administration will face in coming months. The White House wants to take credit for ramping up vaccinations and overseeing a huge reduction in infections and deaths. But if handled poorly, that message could suggest the pandemic is over — a notion that is inaccurate, politically risky and potentially deadly.
Some Biden allies warned that the country, and the president, must take care to avoid declaring victory too soon. “I do think that we’re jumping the gun,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think being cautious on that is really important, and focusing on what more we have to do is really important.”
Emanuel, who was on Biden’s presidential transition team, added, “We’re not at victory. We can’t say ‘Mission Accomplished’ yet. We want to just forget everything and go back to pre-2019, and I think it’s going to be a mistake, and there are people who are going to pay with their lives for it.”
His use of the phrase “Mission Accomplished” was telling; President George W. Bush in 2003 announced victory in the Iraq War in front of a banner bearing that slogan, only to have the fight soon take a deadly turn, resulting in many more casualties.
The administration has made significant progress getting vaccines into arms, but the pace has now slowed to fewer than 1 million shots per day, well below the mid-April peak of about 3.5 million daily. Biden will not meet his goal of having 70 percent of adults with at least one shot by the Fourth of July — the country is on track to clear that by early August, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Still, White House officials worry that low immunization levels in some states could fuel new outbreaks in coming months. Vaccination rates are high on the coasts but lag in the Midwest and South.
|U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House at a celebration of Independence Day in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein|
For some, the holiday was somber. In addition to the pall cast over the country by the pandemic and the Florida building collapse, the U.S. West faces a heightened risk of wildfires after a scorching heat wave and extremely dry conditions. Nationwide supply-chain glitches tied to the pandemic have jacked up prices of everything from household items to fireworks.
According to US News, some days ago, more than 150 fire scientists and officials signed a letter – published by The Conversation on Wednesday – urging people to skip the fireworks this year even as Americans become more comfortable congregating, amid a stretch of dangerously hot and dry weather in the Pacific Northwest. A recent Axios-Ipsos poll found that 41% of U.S. adults believe attending a July Fourth celebration this year carries either a moderate or high risk, but this percentage is down from 78% when the same question was asked a year ago.
|Fireworks illuminate the sky above the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall during Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC on July 4, 2021. (Getty Images)|
"We are gravely concerned about the potential for humans to accidentally start fires – from fireworks and other activities – by adding ignitions to this combination of historic drought, heat, and dry vegetation," the letter reads. "We urge people to skip the fireworks this July 4th and to avoid other activities that could start an unintentional wildfire. This will be critical for a safe Independence Day holiday, good practice for the rest of the fire season and one way we can adapt to more safely live in increasingly flammable landscapes."
Fireworks don't just spark wildfires. A homemade, illegal fireworks cache exploded as it was being destroyed by a bomb squad in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, injuring 17 people in the process, according to The Associated Press. Ralph Terrazas, the city's fire chief, told the AP that Los Angeles sees "devastation and destruction" every year from fireworks, despite them being illegal to sell or possess. Besides, the Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, warned state and local police this week of a heightened threat of violence by domestic extremist groups.
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