It was an ordinary photograph on social media but given the precarious times, it was extraordinary: the photograph showed a group of family and friends standing close together, beaming, all maskless. It was posted on Twitter by the noted physician and pandemic expert Dr Ashish K Jha, who tweeted, “A great July 4 BBQ with burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and close friends and colleagues brought to you by some amazing vaccines. Happy 4th .”
Americans had got used to seeing the always calm and cool Dr Jha on television sharing wisdom on the COVID crisis, and here he was maskless, and certainly not six feet away from other maskless people as he celebrated America’s Independence Day with a traditional barbecue in the outdoors.
This scenario was repeated across America by millions of families, able to put the pandemic behind them and actually hug family and friends. It was indeed an extraordinary day that ended with a magnum opus concert of top American musicians in cities across the country while the night skies lit up with spectacular fireworks. As someone tweeted to Jha, “Love it, all together, all unmasked, all vaccinated!”
Vaccinations have certainly made this dream scenario possible. “This year, the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we are emerging from the darkness of years; a year of pandemic and isolation; a year of pain, fear, and heartbreaking loss,” said President Joe Biden in his address at a celebration for essential and hospital workers and members of the armed forces. “Just think back to where this nation was a year ago. Think back to where you were a year ago. And think about how far we’ve come.”
America is certainly on the rebound with crowded, busy streets, and families reunited. This Independence Day travel was back to levels before the pandemic, and business is bustling, with record economic growth.
This freedom from the deadly virus has come at a heavy price: as of this month, over 603,018 people have lost their lives in the pandemic. As Biden himself cautioned in his remarks, “Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 has not been vanquished. We all know powerful variants have emerged, like the Delta variant, but the best defence against these variants is to get vaccinated.”
He added, “So, today, while the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it’s within our power to make sure it never does again.”
In the 245 years since America’s Independence, the country’s population has multiplied from 2.5 million in 1776, according to Historical Statistics of the United States to a whopping 331,449,281, as of April 1, 2020, per the 2020 census. The face of America itself has changed with immigrants and their American born children representing every colour and ethnicity in America.
For everyone, Americans, immigrants and those seeking to become Americans, the future is looking much brighter. A day before Independence Day, Biden participated in the Naturalization ceremony of 21 New Americans and welcomed them to US citizenship: “You have each come to America from different circumstances and different reasons and 16 different nationalities,” he told them. “But like previous generations of immigrants, there is one trait you all share in common: courage. It takes courage to get up and leave everything you know and go to another place, no matter where it is. You know, the only homes you’ve ever known, the lives, the loved ones who weren’t able to come — for a new start in the United States of America.”
The future does look promising for the American Dream and the key to economic stability lies in vanquishing the virus. Due to the Biden Administration’s efforts, COVID-19 cases and deaths are down by 90 percent since January. As Biden noted in his remarks, “More than 182 million Americans have received at least one shot, including nearly 90 percent of seniors and 70 percent of adults over the age of 27. And the bottom line is: The virus is on the run, and America is coming back.”
Pandemic expert Dr Ashish Jha at a July 4th celebration with friends and family. (Photo: Twitter)
The challenge, however, is that there are two Americas – the vaccinated one, and the other the land of the unvaccinated which makes it impossible to create herd immunity and a life of normalcy for all. Indeed, the recent surge of the Delta variant is responsible for half of all cases in many parts of the country and it has caused hospitalizations and death among those who are unvaccinated.
“Now we need to go community by community, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus,” said Biden. The Administration unveiled plans of taking the vaccinations to where the people are, into rural communities, local pharmacies, convenient locations, family doctors’ offices and even sending out mobile clinics to festivals, places of worship and sporting events.
A lot is riding on the success of vaccinating all Americans – a thriving job market, a bustling economy and a life of normalcy. As Biden told a nation celebrating its Independence Day, “It’s a year of hard-fought progress. We can’t get complacent now. You can do this. Let’s finish the job — finish it together.”
Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.
Read her columns here.
(Edited by : Aditi Gautam)
First Published: IST