Former President Barack Obama will scale back his star-studded Martha’s Vineyard birthday party amid concerns about the “Delta variant” and following a wave of criticism.
News of Obama’s 475-person bash, which was supposed to include A-list guests like Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg and feature a performance from Pearl Jam, broke earlier this week, days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its mask-wearing guidelines, urging even individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 to mask up indoors in areas experiencing a significant resurgence of the virus.
“Obama is hosting a 60th birthday bash for himself and hundreds of guests on Martha’s Vineyard this coming weekend amid heightened public health concerns — locally and nationally — about the COVID-19 Delta variant,” Axios reported on Monday. “One person with connections to Obamaworld said there were 475 confirmed guests — including friends, family and former aides — and 200-plus staff planning to work the party.”
The news was met with shock and criticism, and Obama allies defended the party, noting that the Obama family had hired a “COVID-19 coordinator,” that the event would be held outside, and that Martha’s Vineyard is not among those areas with significant spread.
When asked about the former president’s plans, the White House, which has stressed the importance of following CDC guidelines, would only say that current President Joe Biden would not attend the event. Instead, a spokesperson for Biden said the president “looks forward to catching up with former President Obama soon and properly welcome him to the over-sixty club.”
On Wednesday, the Obama family finally announced that they would “scale back” the party in light of the spread of the Delta variant, days after the CDC’s decision and a full public relations defense.
“Due to the new spread of the delta variant over the past week, the President and Mrs. Obama have decided to significantly scale back the event to include only family and close friends. President Obama is appreciative of others sending their birthday wishes from afar and looks forward to seeing people soon.” Obama’s spokesperson, Hannah Hankins, said in a statement Wednesday.
The “outdoor event was planned months ago in accordance with all public health guidelines and with covid safeguards in place,” Hankins maintained.
The change does appear to be last minute. “Hundreds of former Obama administration officials, celebrities and Democratic donors had been planning to attend the huge bash on Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday,” The New York Times reported, adding that many of the guests had already arrived for the party.
Former Obama strategist David Axelrod claimed the change was over new information.
“They’ve been concerned about the virus from the beginning, asking invited guests if they had been vaccinated, requesting that they get a test proximate to the event,” he said. “But when this was planned, the situation was quite different. So they responded to the changing circumstances.”
The Biden administration is expected to make a second plea for Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Marketwatch reported Wednesday, though the White House has, so far, largely avoided talk of lockdowns.
“The seven-day moving average stood at 72,000 newly diagnosed cases a day, 6,200 hospital admissions a day, and 300 deaths a day, as of July 31, according to CDC data. All metrics have increased at least 25% week-over-week, as the more infectious delta variant spreads throughout the U.S,” per Marketwatch.
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