WASHINGTON – As Americans gathered to celebrate Independence Day, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted their own party on the South Lawn of the White House.
“Today, we celebrate America. Our freedom, our liberty, our independence. The Fourth of July is a sacred day in our country. A day of history, of hope, remembrance and resolve, of promise and possibilities,” Biden said before a fireworks display.
The president promised that the USA is “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus” while cautioning that “COVID-19 has not been vanquished.”
He highlighted several signs of a return to normalcy, including the reopening of schools, faster-than-expected economic recovery and resumption of many in-person activities.
Biden said he keeps a note on his person with the exact number of Americans who have died from COVID-19.
"As of tonight, that number is 603,018 people who have lost their lives," he said, stressing that each person lost was a member of a family and community.
"We also remember all those who ... families lost to other causes of death and cruel twists of fate. They, too, left behind loved ones, unable to breathe and mourn loved ones," he continued.
Honoring military, first responders
The celebration included a barbecue for military families and essential workers, whom Biden thanked for their service to the country throughout the pandemic.
"It's the greatest honor to serve as your commander in chief," the president told the gathered service members. "Thank you for your service and sacrifice."
Biden praised Americans for their individual roles in fighting the coronavirus, which he called "one of the most remarkable achievements in American history," before urging people to get vaccinated and to see it as a patriotic act.
"The best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated. My fellow Americans, it's the most patriotic thing you can do. So please, if you haven't gotten vaccinated, do it now. For yourselves, for your loved ones, for your community," he said.
In March, Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated to “make this Independence Day truly special." He urged Americans to recognize July 4 as a date to “begin to mark our independence from this virus," after setting a benchmark that the country should reach 70% of adults getting vaccinated, a threshold many public health officials said is enough for herd immunity.
Since Biden's announcement, the administration has promoted vaccines in a blitz across media and working with states and localities to increase access and raise public trust.
The country fell slightly short of Biden's target – 67% of adults had received at least one dose by the holiday. Vaccination rates were not even across the country; 20 states and the District of Columbia exceeded Biden's benchmark, and 30 states lagged.
Biden touched on the importance of democracy, a frequent theme of his presidency. "Each day we're reminded there's nothing guaranteed about our democracy," the president cautioned. Biden warned that "the right to vote and have that vote counted” is sacred, referring to the administration’s efforts to bolster voting rights.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: At July 4th party, Biden will celebrate COVID progress, mark its toll