The Trump administration planned a large Independence Day fireworks display Saturday in Washington despite the city’s concerns about the coronavirus.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators were expected along the National Mall. Crowds started to form early Saturday morning.
Streets were blocked off around the White House, Lincoln Memorial and Black Lives Matter Plaza. Several protests for racial equality and police reform were planned.
President Donald Trump promised a special evening in the nation’s capital after a speech Friday night at Mount Rushmore in the Midwestern state of South Dakota, in which he said "angry mobs" were trying to erase history. The president was to speak Saturday night from the South Lawn of the White House.
Democrat Joe Biden, Trump's presumptive opponent in the November election, used a different tone Saturday, tweeting: "Our nation was founded on a simple idea: We're all created equal. We've never lived up to it — but we've never stopped trying. This Independence Day, let's not just celebrate those words, let's commit to finally fulfill them."
Massive fireworks display
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said plans for the July Fourth celebrations included a mile-long firing of 10,000 fireworks that he called “the largest in recent memory.”
Bernhardt said in a statement that Defense Department flyovers would give a “one-of-a-kind air show.”
“President Trump’s 2020 Salute to America will be a patriotic tribute to our men and women in uniform,” he said.
Interior Department officials said they would have 300,000 face masks on hand for spectators at the National Mall for the festivities, although there was no indication that people would be required to wear them.
White House spokesman Judd Deere told AFP that the festivities would pay tribute to health care workers, police and the military, and that social distancing would be observed — in contrast to the practice at Mount Rushmore.
Bernhardt said visitors would be encouraged to wear masks and keep six feet away from one another.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has criticized the plans, saying they go against established health guidelines.
“We know this is a special event for the Department of the Interior. We’ve communicated to them that we do not think this is in keeping with the best CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and Department of Health guidance,” she said.
She noted the event would take place entirely on federal property, which means she does not have the right to shut down the holiday festivities.
Bowser has asked city residents to avoid large crowds and to celebrate July Fourth near their homes.
Among the protesters who planned events were a biker group called Roar of the Deplorables and Freedom Fighters DC. The biker group said via social media that it planned to stand in protest against "the anti-Trump regime" and to celebrate the nation's birthday. Freedom Fighters DC is one of the anti-racism groups that planned to march.
Many other U.S. cities have canceled or scaled back fireworks displays this year because of the pandemic and concerns about large groups of people gathering.
The organizers of the Macy's July Fourth fireworks display in New York City canceled the traditional one-night event and instead have been holding short nightly shows in each borough that began June 29. Video of the displays was to be aired on television Saturday night.
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Private holiday celebrations were banned at several popular beaches, including some in South Florida, Southern California and the Texas Gulf Coast.
In the northeastern U.S., where coronavirus cases have generally been subsiding, beaches were open. However, government officials urged people to avoid crowding.
The CDC advised Americans who did plan to visit beaches to wear face coverings.
Sales of fireworks have been strong, indicating that many Americans were planning to celebrate the holiday in their backyards, according to The Associated Press.