WASHINGTON (CN) — All American adults will be eligible to sign up for the Covid-19 vaccine by May 1 and small gatherings can begin again on July 4, President Joe Biden told Americans Thursday in his first primetime address since taking office.
With vaccinations reaching 2 million Americans daily and new infections and deaths plummeting from their harrowing peak in January, Biden could afford to give Americans something that has seemed to evade the rhetoric of the past year: a hope that this will end soon.
The Thursday night address marked a grim milestone: one year since the World Health Organization declared a worldwide pandemic, and for many Americans, one year of loss and disruption.
“While it was different for everyone, we all lost something,” Biden said. “But finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do. In fact, it may be the most American thing we do.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 529,000 Americans — the highest Covid death toll in the world — caused 22 million Americans to lose their jobs and created one of the largest economic crises in U.S. history.
“That’s more deaths than World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined,” Biden said solemnly.
The president offered consolation for the past year’s suffering, but also implored Americans to keep wearing masks, get vaccinated and follow Covid-19 guidelines, making sure to emphasize that things can change and new variants of the virus could emerge.
“I need every American to do their part,” Biden said about his goal of small gatherings by Independence Day. “That will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”
In a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden reviewed the drafts of the speech, “to ensure that he is striking the right tone,” between offering hope and clearly outlining what is required of Americans.
Just hours before addressing the nation, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan — the $1.9 trillion package approved by Congress to provide relief to businesses and families who are suffering in the wake of the virus. The bill was pushed through with no Republican support, using a procedural tool called budget reconciliation which allowed Democrats to pass the bill along party lines — a disappointment for Biden who had initially promised a bipartisan vote.
An ambitious and costly attempt to rebuild the U.S. economy, the package includes direct payments for Americans, expanded child tax credits, funding for vaccine distribution and aid to help schools reopen safely.
Psaki said Americans could start seeing stimulus checks in their bank account by this weekend.
“I’m using every power I have as the president of the United States to get us on a war-footing to beat this virus,” Biden said.
In his address, Biden also said the administration is working to launch a call center and a centralized website with vaccine locations and information, set to open on May 1.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released initial guidance for how vaccinated people can resume some normal activities. Biden said further guidance is coming about what one can and cannot do when vaccinated.
The president still faces hurdles from a polarized and tired country, many suspicious of the vaccine, but offered hope that the country would return to normal in spite of challenges.
“Over one year ago, no one could have imagined what we were about to go through,” Biden said, calling the past year the darkest period in American history. “But now, we’re coming through it. It’s a shared experience that binds together as a nation. We are bound together by the loss and the pain and the days that have gone by. We are also bound together by the hopes and possibilities of the days in front of us.”
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