Last year, as Covid-19 tightened its grip, public holidays like Memorial Day at the end of May, Independence Day on July 4, and Labor Day in September became infection spreaders as millions of Americans hit the road and gathered with others despite pleas to stay home and stay apart.
This year, US airports just set holiday weekend pandemic-era records by screening 8.97 million people, as people activated long-delayed plans to travel and rekindle ties with family and friends. “In some ways, this was the first big stress test,” says CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. The difference now is that tens of millions of Americans are fully vaccinated and nearly 51% of the population has had at least one shot.
The US is now down to just over 17,000 average new cases of Covid-19 per day — the most hopeful data since the start of the pandemic. Just a few months ago, in January, that daily average topped 250,000.
There has been a palpable change in cities in recent weeks as people begin to test the immunity granted to them by the miracle of vaccines. Bars and restaurants are filling up — at least those that have enough staff to open. It is an extraordinary story. And it offers hope for many nations where vaccines have yet to become available en masse. After all, if the US — which botched much of its pandemic response — can all but come out of the other side, nations with the means and where mask wearing is not a political statement could do even better.
America still has problems, though. The politicization that has haunted the country is extending to vaccines. People in conservative states are generally more reluctant to get shots than those in more diverse, liberal cities. Come winter, when everyone is back indoors, that could cause Covid-19 hot spots and new agonizing about whether to reimpose some restrictions. And, sadly, death rates are likely to go back up again — but the hope is that infections will remain isolated and the big opening will not be reversed.
Time for a break
Had Donald Trump skipped off to the beach on a Wednesday afternoon, his critics would be in an uproar. But Joe Biden is settled in at his seaside retreat at Rehoboth, Delaware, for first lady Jill Biden’s 70th birthday.
No doubt the Trump fans who fill Twitter with false claims that Biden never does any work or is too old for the job will pounce. But let’s be honest, Trump, who seemed to spend much of the day watching cable news and tweeting about it, didn’t exactly put in a long shift at the White House. Trump made more than 260 visits to his golf clubs during his one-term presidency, and once skipped a G20 virtual session on the pandemic to get in a few holes. (This after Trump complained that Barack Obama spent too much time on the links while president and promised that he’d be far too busy to tee off.)
Biden spent decades commuting from the Senate to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and likes to break out of what commanders in chief often regard as the gilded cage of the presidential mansion. CNN’s Kate Bennett reports that Biden has already been in Wilmington for nine weekends and visited the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland for five during his four months in office.
It is enormously costly to move presidents around, requiring helicopters and a mini version of Air Force One even for the short hop to Delaware. Critics gripe that they should just stay home and save taxpayer cash. But grousing over presidential vacations is a bit of a political charade; Democrats bellyache about Republican presidents taking time off and vice versa, but even a commander in chief needs some downtime.
Anyway, presidents never get away from the job. The vast infrastructure of the presidency, including the Secret Service, officials and a press pool, goes wherever the boss does. Presidents could destroy the planet from the 10th fairway, the beach or anywhere else, since the armed forces member who carries the “football” containing nuclear launch codes is always just a few steps away.
‘This is not an issue of Russia against me; it’s an issue of Russia against the United States’
Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia, has called on President Joe Biden to “aggressively discuss and resolve” the issue of US citizens being detained for political purposes, in an exclusive phone interview with CNN’s Jennifer Hansler. Whelan spoke from a Russian labor camp, where he is serving out a 16-year sentence for an espionage charge he vehemently denies.
“This is not an issue of Russia against me; it’s an issue of Russia against the United States, and the United States needs to answer this hostage diplomacy situation and resolve it as quickly as possible,” he said. Whelan also said he has “a positive feeling” about the meeting between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month.
Meanwhile in Bulgaria…
Last month, US troops accidentally stormed an olive oil factory in Bulgaria. Above: Video from the factory’s security cameras obtained by CNN affiliate Nova TV appears to show US troops in military gear walking in and out.