U.S. July 4 festivities shine after last year’s COVID-19 cancellations
NEW YORK: Americans celebrated their nation’s 245th birthday on Sunday (July 4) with fireworks that may seem brighter, hot dogs that may taste juicier, and marching bands that may seem more casual afterwards that the coronavirus pandemic forced almost all celebrations to be canceled last year.
As always, the fireworks are the highlight of the July 4th party. Two of the nation’s largest fireworks displays will take place above the National Mall in Washington and over a mile and a half of the East River in New York City, separating Manhattan from the neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn.
Despite being curtailed by COVID-19, Nathan’s famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island in Brooklyn wowed socially distant crowds when defending champion Joey Chestnut broke his own world record by knocking down 76 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. It was one more than he had swallowed up last year and marked his 14th victory.
This year’s Independence Day, after 600,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 and amid an increase in the more aggressive Delta variant, was an opportunity for Americans to show their patriotism and celebrate a personal sense of freedom by mingling again with friends and enjoying the simplicity of summer pleasures.
But the occasion was not completely carefree. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security last week warned state and local police of an increased threat of violence from domestic extremist groups amid relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and the July 4 vacation.
It was expected to be the busiest July 4th road vacation on record – with an estimated 43.6 million Americans driving, 5% more than a previous record set in 2019, a declared the American Automobile Association.
At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, First Lady Jill Biden told a crowd: “The clouds have broken” after a long and dreary winter of isolation battling COVID-19 as well as efforts to reach her husband’s goal of getting 70 percent of American adults their first shot on July 4. The government calculated the number at around 67%, as some people resisted the vaccination.
“We’re not at the finish line yet, but summer has never been so full of possibilities, and doesn’t the air smell so much sweeter without our masks?” said the first lady.
READ: The closed US Capitol is a grim backdrop on Independence Day
Unvaccinated attendees must wear masks at a 1,000-person celebration on the White House lawn that President Joe Biden and the First Lady host for essential workers and military families, officials said .
The U.S. Secret Service said authorities removed barriers erected at the White House in recent years to bolster security. The change allows visitors to walk right up to the White House fence.
The president is hosting the event three days after his visit to Surfside, Florida, to console families whose loved ones were in a condo tower that collapsed on June 24. Several communities in Florida have canceled their July 4 fireworks display out of respect for those affected by the tragedy. city ââofficials said.
The vacation was a chance for 12-year-old Brooklyn girl Aleksandra Magidoff to travel to a New Jersey suburb to reconnect with a lifelong friend and family. They were among more than 3.5 million people who have left New York City, once the U.S. epicenter of COVID-19, since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020.
“I’m so excited – I can talk to them and celebrate with them and just socialize!” said Magidoff, who was fully vaccinated under the enormous blue whale model at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The girls planned to binge on “a bunch of burgers and hot dogs” before attending the fireworks show at a New Jersey fairground, she said.
On July 4, she watched fireworks from the roof of her apartment building while in pandemic containment, allowed to celebrate with only her immediate family.
Earlier Sunday in Washington, marching bands took part in a traditional parade through the barracks on Capitol Hill. As night fell, the National Mall was expected to draw large crowds for a 17-minute fireworks display set off from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
On New York’s East River, 50 pyrotechnicians spent days loading more than 65,000 shells onto five barges to wow audiences by watching the spectacular show in person or on television. The display is presented by Macy’s Department Store.
READ: Progress on COVID-19 and the economy under Biden, but disunity haunts the US on its 245th birthday
Lighting up the night sky not only delights the crowds, but promises to restore a lifeline this year for the companies supplying the 16,000 July 4th fireworks that typically occur in towns and villages. Last year, only the “rare few” continued with the show, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
âAbout 70% are expected to return, and many will be bigger and better than pre-pandemic levels,â Heckman said.
But for some, the holidays have been bleak.
In addition to the veil cast over the country by the pandemic and a building collapse in Florida, the American West faces an increased risk of wildfires after a scorching heatwave and extremely dry conditions. Nationwide supply chain issues linked to the pandemic have driven up prices for everything from housewares to fireworks.