'America's Back Together': White House Celebrates 'Independence' from COVID-19 on Fourth of July

This year's Independence Day festivities in Washington, D.C. honored the progress that the United States has made since the pandemic began in March 2020

biden and family
President Joe Biden and his family. Photo: Michael Reynolds/UPI/Shutterstock

There was no shortage of fun in the nation's capital this weekend as the United States celebrated its 245th birthday.

The White House adopted an "America's Back Together" theme to mark the occasion, an administration official told PEOPLE ahead of Sunday — making the best of a not-quite-accomplished COVID-19 vaccination goal.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden hosted a barbecue for thousands of essential workers and military families on the South Lawn of the White House to mark the (hopefully) waning days of the pandemic in America more than a year after COVID-19 really began to spread across the country.

The gathering was the biggest in-person event at the White House since Biden, 78, took office in January.

Among the festivities was a footrace between local MLB team the Washington Nationals' four presidential mascots — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Guests also enjoyed music provided by a military band, the Associated Press said.

Addressing guests at the BBQ, Biden said, "Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together. Two hundred and forty-five years ago we declared independence from a distant king. Today, we're closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That's not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We've got a lot more work to do."

The fan-favorite Fourth of July fireworks display on the National Mall began just after 9:00 p.m. EST on Sunday. The show was visible from various locations throughout Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, according to the National Parks Service. The president, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and several of their grandchildren watched on the White House balcony during the show.

biden and family
President Joe Biden and his family. Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock
Joe and Jill biden
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock

Additionally, the PBS special A Capitol Fourth returned this year as a virtual event, which can be viewed on YouTube.

All capacity limits in D.C. were lifted ahead of the holiday. Those attending events on the National Mall were only required to wear masks if un-vaccinated.

fireworks at the National Mall
Fourth of July fireworks in Washington, D.C. Jose Luis Magana/AP/Shutterstock

Though many returned to more normal festivities this Fourth of July, and virus infections and deaths have fallen sharply, the U.S. is not exactly where Biden wanted it to be entering the holiday weekend.

At the beginning of June, the president set a nationwide goal of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July 4. States have offered incentives like free childcare, rides to vaccination sites via Uber or Lyft and the prospect of an Independence Day "free from fear or worry."

People gather to celebrate America's 245th Independence Day on the National Mall
Fourth of July on the National Mall. Ken Cedeno/UPI/Shutterstock
People gather to celebrate America's 245th Independence Day on the National Mall
Fourth of July on the National Mall. Bonnie Cash/UPI/Shutterstock

Companies like Microsoft, CVS and Anheuser-Busch also attempted to encourage consumers to get vaccinated before July 4 with special promotions and sweepstakes.

But the president's goal was not met in time: just over 47% of the population is fully inoculated as of July 4, according to CDC data, while 54.9% have received at least one dose.

The U.S. topped 600,000 COVID deaths last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The first and second families had a busy weekend beyond the Fourth. The president visited Traverse City, Michigan, on Saturday while the first lady traveled to Maine and New Hampshire. Vice President Kamala Harris was in Nevada on Saturday after Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff went to Utah on Friday.

Members of Biden's Cabinet attended roundtables, baseball games, fire station visits, festivals, parades, BBQs and more in several states to mark the holiday as well.

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