President Joe Biden began Memorial Day weekend by visiting a climbing gym in northern Virginia as the state lifted all COVID-19 distance and capacity restrictions on private businesses and much of the country is pushing towards a greater sense of normalcy.

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AP) – President Joe Biden began Memorial Day weekend by visiting a climbing gym in northern Virginia as the state lifted all COVID-19 distance and capacity restrictions in private companies and that much of the country is pushing towards a greater sense of normalcy.

Biden sought to use the Friday stop at Sportrock Climbing Centers – an 18,000 square foot space of climbing walls and boulders, a gym and yoga studios – to celebrate the progress made as the country seeks to turn the corner on the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 593,000 Americans and 3.5 million people worldwide.

The president also took the opportunity to thank Americans who have already been vaccinated – about 51% of Americans are now fully vaccinated – and again urged Americans who do not have to be vaccinated.

“Across the country, we’ve gone from the pain and stagnation of a long, dark winter to an economy on the move,” Biden said. He added, “Americans of all parties, races, creeds have come together and rolled up their sleeves – literally – and done their part.”

This year, the long holiday weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer comes as the federal and state governments relax masking and social distancing rules now that a majority of Americans are now vaccinated and that more and more Americans are looking to return to their pre – pandemic routines.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam lifted coronavirus capacity and social distancing restrictions in the state on Friday. He had previously lifted Virginia’s indoor mask mandate for people fully vaccinated on May 15 for most indoor environments, although companies can still require masks if they choose.

Virginia’s positivity rate – the percentage of people who tested positive for the virus in the past seven days – was 2.6% on Friday. About 54% of the state’s population have received at least one dose of vaccination and nearly 44% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist by profession, said there was “finally a very bright light at the end of this long tunnel” thanks to Biden following advice from scientists on his approach to the pandemic.

“As a physician, I know it also makes a big difference when leadership respects science and follows its example,” Northam said.

Biden appeared mesmerized by the Sportrock climbers, who seemed unfazed as the president watched them climb. Asked by a reporter if he would like to try, Biden replied that he “would like” but suggested he start with one of the easier walls.

“I won’t try the corner wall, I will try this wall,” Biden said with a smile, pointing to a flatter climbing wall.

The visit comes as Biden presses Republican lawmakers to back a massive infrastructure bill to rebuild roads and bridges, replace millions of lead water pipes and more – this that the White House presents as a balm for an economy as the United States turns the corner on the worst public health crisis in more than a century.

He has sought to compare the progress made in vaccinating Americans with the GOP resistance he faces in Congress.

“The American people are more ready to come together, I believe, than Congress and elected officials,” Biden said.

Biden was due to travel to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va. Later Friday to thank U.S. troops for their service before heading to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, where he is expected to spend most of the weekend. end of vacation.

Associated Press writer Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia and Aamer Madhani in Chicago contributed reporting.

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