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People wearing face masks in Los Angeles.

People wearing face masks walk past a sign reading "Freedom" at an outdoor art exhibition in downtown Los Angeles, on July 1, 2021. Los Angeles County public health authorities are urging unvaccinated and vaccinated people alike to wear face coverings inside restaurants, stores and other public indoor spaces. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Public Health Officials Urge Continued Caution as White House Hosts Fourth of July Gathering

"There's a disconnect between the cautious message of the White House Covid response team—that vaccinated people are safe but we need to still take precautions—and then a very public display of large crowds," said a former Obama administration official.

Julia Conley

The White House went through with plans to host nearly 1,000 guests at its Fourth of July gathering on Sunday, but public health officials warned that with more than 200 people still dying each day from Covid-19, the highly contagious Delta variant now detected in all 50 states, and millions of Americans still unvaccinated, the government should be cautious not to send the message that the coronavirus pandemic is over.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday showed that while 54.9% of Americans have had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccines and 47.4% are fully vaccinated, tens of millions of people who haven't been vaccinated have no plans to change their status despite warnings about the Delta variant.

A third of adults who haven't had a shot said they would definitely or probably not get one, and three-quarters of those respondents said they believed Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, has exaggerated the danger the Delta variant poses to unvaccinated people.

Fauci told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that more than 99% of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. are now happening among people who are not vaccinated. The Delta variant is now responsible for one in four infections, according to the Washington Post.

Some experts expressed concern over the holiday weekend about the White House's determination to celebrate "our independence from this virus," as Biden promised months ago, as the country marks Independence Day—even as Fauci warned that states with low vaccination rates are likely to see cases surging soon.

"There's a disconnect between the cautious message of the White House Covid response team—that vaccinated people are safe but we need to still take precautions—and then a very public display of large crowds," Dr. Kavita Patel, a physician and a fellow at the Brookings Institution who served in the Obama administration, told the Post of the White House's Fourth of July celebration. 

Fauci's warning on Sunday that he expects cases to spike in places "where the level of vaccination is low and the level of virus dissemination is high," came days after officials in Los Angeles advised residents and visitors to wear masks in restaurants, stores, and other public indoor spaces regardless of their vaccination status, citing the spread of the Delta variant.

Biden's top public health official added on "Meet the Press" that Americans should consider wearing masks when traveling to places with low vaccination rates, even if they're fully vaccinated.

The Delta variant worrying officials in the U.S. is also a chief concern of international public health experts, with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, saying wealthy countries are not currently meeting their obligations to help vaccinate the Global South—a failure which is allowing the variant to continue spreading and prolonging the pandemic around the world.

Vaccine-sharing amounts to "only a trickle, which is being outpaced by variants," Ghebreyesus said Saturday after officials announced the Delta variant is now present in at least 98 countries.

"The world must equitably share protective gear, oxygen, tests, treatments, and vaccines," the director-general said. "This is the best way to slow the pandemic, save lives, and drive a truly global economic recovery, and along the way prevent further dangerous variants from getting the upper hand."

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