“Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do,” President Joe Biden said from the White House on Thursday, marking one year to the day since coronavirus began to shut down the United States in earnest. “In fact, it may be the most American thing to do.”
That light may come in the form of fireworks this Fourth of July, with Biden saying there is a good chance the country may be able to begin celebrating its independence from the virus on Independence Day.
What You Need To Know
- President Joe Biden announced an order to mandate that all states, Tribes, and territories open up COVID-19 vaccines to all eligible adults no later than May 1, according to a senior administration official
- In his first primetime address, Biden honored the nearly 530,000 lives lost to COVID-19, and outlined the next steps against battling the pandemic, including his hope of allowing Americans to gather in "small groups" by July 4
- Biden’s speech comes one day after after Congress passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, his first major legislative victory
- The president, along with other senior administration officials, will set out on a public tour next week to sell the American Rescue Plan directly to the American people
The president used his first primetime address both to honor the over 530,600 people across the country who have died from COVID-19, and also mandated that every state, Tribe, and territory open up COVID-19 vaccines to all eligible adults no later than May 1.
“For all of you asking when things will get back to normal, here is the truth: The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back, is to beat the virus,” Biden said.
The push to open eligibility to all adults by May coincides with Biden’s desire to allow people to gather in small groups by July 4, though Biden noted that the goal depends on people continuing to follow public health measures throughout the U.S.
That means Americans will have to continue wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing good hygiene, Biden said. As more people get vaccinated, the CDC will continue to update guidance on best practices for the workplace, home, and at places of worship.
“If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the Fourth there's a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together at your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout, or a barbeque, and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden said, later adding: “After this long, hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”
Biden is confident in the new May benchmark both because of the newly guaranteed supply of doses and federal plans to increase the number of vaccinators and vaccination sites throughout the country. The administration on Thursday also expanded qualifications for vaccinators, meaning that people like dentists, paramedics, veterinarians, and medical students can all sign up to give the shot.
With the funds made available via the newly signed American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration will more than double the number of federally-run mass vaccination centers, double the number of pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy program, and deliver vaccines directly to an extra 700 community health centers, which reach underserved communities, according to the White House.
By May 1, the Biden administration will also launch a website and a 1-800 number to help people find vaccines, as well as deploy technical support teams to help improve state vaccination websites.
“No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones,” Biden said of the added digital support.
In terms of reopening schools, the White House announced Thursday that funding "to safely reopen schools for in-person instruction" will start being distributed this month by the Department of Education, which will help schools implement CDC mitigation strategies and hire more staff, which would help accommodate smaller class sizes and stave off laying off current staff.
“With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, and my announcement last month of a plan to vaccinate teachers and school staff, we can accelerate the massive nationwide effort to reopen our schools safely,” Biden said, adding that reopening schools will be a “top priority” for his newly-confirmed education secretary, Miguel Cardona.
The administration will also help schools implement regular testing, including the Department of Health and Human Services awarding $650 million to expand K-8 school testing, as well as testing in underserved areas, and increase efforts to help teachers get vaccinated.
Biden concluded his address with both a plea and a promise directed at the American public: work with him, not against him, and the country will be able to open months earlier than predicted.
“I will use every power I have and I will not relent until we beat this virus,” Biden pledged. “But I need you. I need every American to do their part. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn, keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks.”