Americans are preparing to travel in large numbers over the July Fourth weekend as many people seek to return to traditional holiday routines following more than a year of pandemic worries and restrictions.
The travel group AAA forecasts that more than 47 million people will travel by car or plane this weekend in the United States. That represents a return to 2019 travel levels and is 40% higher than last year.
Americans traditionally celebrate the Independence Day holiday with cookouts, fireworks, and visits with family and friends.
Large gatherings are also back this July Fourth, with major events being planned across the country.
Nashville, Tennessee, is expecting up to 400,000 people to visit the city for its celebration featuring country star Brad Paisley, while Huntington Beach in Southern California is planning a three-day festival that could attract a half-million people.
Other celebrations, however, have been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. A July Fourth concert traditionally held in Boston that typically draws hundreds of thousands of people to the Charles River has been moved to the Tanglewood music center 160 kilometers away.
Concert organizers said they did not have enough time to plan the massive event in Boston after local officials had lifted coronavirus restrictions at the end of May. They say a fireworks display will still take place in Boston but will be held in Boston Common instead of along the river.
Organizers of Washington's Capitol Fourth celebration, which airs on public television, said most performances would not be held live at the U.S. Capitol as is traditionally done. They will be held remotely from cities such as New York, Nashville and Los Angeles.
Impact of weather, economy
Weather is also affecting this year's celebrations, with fireworks banned in the Pacific Northwest because of threats of wildfires after an extreme heat wave.
Another factor influencing holiday plans is the U.S. economy. As the economy begins to recover from coronavirus restrictions, some organizations and businesses are struggling to find enough workers to keep pace with the speed of the reopening. These include restaurants in tourist destinations, airlines, and lifeguard operations at beaches and pools, all of which could affect holiday travelers.
Prices for many common goods have risen in the United States as demand outstrips supply in sectors across the economy. However, the Biden administration touted Thursday that the price of a July Fourth cookout is down 16 cents from last year, according to Farm Bureau statistics.
White House celebration
President Joe Biden plans to host more than 1,000 people at the White House, including first responders, essential workers and troops, to celebrate the holiday. His administration has called this season a "summer of freedom" as the country returns to normal routines after the pandemic.
"There's great things happening," he said. "All across America, people are going to ballgames, doing good things."
Biden also emphasized COVID-19 safety, saying, "I am concerned that people who have not gotten vaccinated have the capacity to catch the variant and spread the variant to other people who have not been vaccinated. ... Lives will be lost."
More than two-thirds of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine. That falls short of the 70% goal that Biden had set for July Fourth, however.
This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.