NEWARK, NJ – Americans enjoying a newfound freedom are expected to travel and gather for barbecues, fireworks, concerts and beach outings over the July 4th weekend in numbers not seen since the pre-pandemic days.
Still, persistent restrictions, worker shortages and a significant number of unvaccinated people mean some may not be as free as they would like.
And there are fears that the mixing of large numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans at a time when the highly contagious delta variant is spreading rapidly could reverse some of the progress made against the plague.
Nashville expects 400,000 people to flock to the city for its July 4th celebration featuring country star Brad Paisley. In Massachusetts, the Boston Pops Independence Day concert is back, but the show that usually draws hundreds of thousands to Boston’s Charles River Esplanade will be held 160 miles at the Tanglewood Music Center. .
The beaches and lakes should also be crowded. In Southern California, Huntington Beach is planning one of the West Coast’s biggest celebrations, a three-day festival that could bring together half a million people.
Elizabeth Driscoll plans to enjoy the festivities in Cheboygan, Mich., Including a parade down Main Street, a visit to a farmer’s market, and a family party on a lake, all before the fireworks display above the Straits of Mackinac. Last year the parade and fireworks display were canceled.
“You can feel it all over town, just an influx of people on the tourism side, and the people who live here are out there,” she said. “There is good energy.
At the same time, airlines are struggling to recruit enough crew members to fly their planes. Pools and beaches have been hit by a shortage of lifeguards. And restaurants and bars in tourist destinations have had to reduce their opening hours due to a lack of help.
President Joe Biden hailed the holidays as a historic moment in the country’s recovery from a crisis that killed more than 600,000 Americans and led to months of restrictions that have now all but disappeared. It plans to welcome more than 1,000 people to the White House – first responders, essential workers and troops – for a barbecue and fireworks to mark what the administration is calling a “Summer of freedom”.
“I’m going to celebrate it” Biden said Friday before the holidays. “Great things are happening. … All over America people are going to football games and doing good things. But he also warned that “lives will be lost” because of people who haven’t been vaccinated.
The United States averages about 12,000 new cases and 250 deaths a day from vaccines that have been administered to two-thirds of the country’s adults. But that’s a far cry from the 70% target by July 4 that Biden has set for himself. Vaccination hesitation remains stubborn, especially in the deep south and west, allowing the delta variant to spread across the country.
AAA predicts that more than 47 million people will travel by car or plane this weekend in the United States, a return to 2019 levels and 40% more than last year. This includes 3.5 million air passengers.
At Newark Airport in New Jersey, travelers waited in long lines for check-in on Wednesday and encountered flight delays that put their patience to the test. Some were just happy to get on a plane after vacation plans were disrupted last year by COVID-19 restrictions.
Rhetta Williams, a 54-year-old executive at a pharmaceutical company, was traveling to Charleston, South Carolina for a family reunion with around 50 loved ones that was postponed a year ago because of the virus.
“And we are not going to practice social distancing”, she said laughing.
Zach Carothers, a 21-year-old computer science student, flew from South Carolina to Newark for a weekend on the Jersey Shore, where people flock.
“It’s nice to come back after such a long quarantine” Carothers said, adding that he looked forward to a vacation that “Definitely have party beers.”
While masks have been dropped across the country, even in indoor spaces, the Transportation Security Administration points out that they are still required at airports and on planes – a restriction not everyone gracefully accepts. Airlines are increasingly reporting cases of disruptive passengers refusing to wear masks.
The fireworks will likely draw some of the biggest crowds many communities have seen in months.
“Things in the open air remain, I think, quite safe for unvaccinated or vaccinated people,” said Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. “A packed outdoor concert is probably not ideal, but other than that, outdoor activities are safe for people. Watching fireworks is good.
Moving the party indoors is considered less safe, at a time when some states have less than half of their population fully immunized.
“I worry for most of the country” said Dr Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health. “I think it’s premature to declare it finished, especially because of what we’re seeing in other parts of the world.”