Biden sets goal of July 4th to 'mark independence from this virus'

A man speaks in front of a microphone.
President Joe Biden speaks during an event with the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Updated: 7:42 p.m.

President Joe Biden is aiming for the country to begin to find a degree of normalcy and begin to move on from the coronavirus pandemic by the July 4th holiday, Biden announced in his first prime-time address Thursday night from the White House on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

Biden said meeting a goal of small family gatherings "will make this Independence Day truly special." It would "not only mark our independence as a nation, but mark our independence from this virus," the president said.

Biden stressed he was not calling for gatherings of large groups, however, and he warned that getting there would take work by all Americans, continuing social distancing, wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

Watch Biden’s first prime-time speech of his presidency here:

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Part of that confidence is rooted, Biden said, in projecting that all Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine by May 1. Not everyone will be able to get a vaccine by that date, he said, but everyone will be able to get in line by then.

Biden's administration will be directing states, tribes and territories to make all American adults eligible by then, according to senior administration officials.

Biden said Wednesday that he would use the address as an opportunity to "explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people."

"There is light at the end of the dark tunnel of the past year," he said following an event at the White House. "But we cannot let our guard down now and assume that victory is inevitable."

During the speech, Biden will announce his administration's plan to ramp up vaccination efforts this spring. This includes the launch of a federally supported website by May 1 that will help individuals find appointments and an increase in the number of vaccination sites.

As part of that expansion, the White House will make shots available at more pharmacies and federally run mass vaccination centers.

Additionally, Biden is expected to increase the number of vaccinators, broadening the pool of those qualified to give shots to include dentists, paramedics, veterinarians, medical students and others.

Thursday's address comes exactly one year after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic. Since then, more than 520,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

Biden has made confronting the coronavirus the top priority for his administration — and according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, a majority of Americans approve of how he has handled the pandemic so far. That includes 30 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of Trump supporters surveyed.

Since vaccine distribution began in the U.S. in December, more than 93 million doses have been administered, reaching about 18.4 percent of the U.S. population. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of a third vaccine option that requires just one shot.

In January, the White House announced its American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion relief package that aims to bolster the country's recovery from the pandemic. On Wednesday, Congress gave final approval to that legislation, which will send a new round of financial support to Americans in the form of direct payments, extended unemployment benefits and an expanded child tax credit.

The bill, which Biden signed on Thursday, also directs funding to schools, businesses and vaccine distribution.

Republican lawmakers universally opposed the plan in the House and the Senate, criticizing the proposal as a Democratic wish list with few provisions related to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Democrats have praised the bill's potential to create a new social safety net.

Whether Americans feel the effects of the relief package over the next few months will be crucial for Biden's presidency as the pandemic continues to present major challenges to American life. The White House has laid out an extensive travel schedule for Biden, Vice President Harris and their spouses next week as part of what they are calling the "Help Is Here" tour to promote the package.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. had reached almost 29 million cases of COVID-19, according to the CDC. And as of last week, there were still 9.5 million fewer jobs in the economy than at this time last year.

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