Jul 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

America's exceptionally uneventful Fourth of July

Illustration of a fireworks display under a glass bell jar

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amateur fireworks and small backyard cookouts are winning the weekend as the coronavirus takes the flash out of the Fourth of July.

What's happening: Public parades and fireworks displays around much of the country are being cancelled to prevent mass gatherings where the virus could spread. Hot-dog contests and concerts will play to empty stands and virtual audiences — all while American pride treads an all-time low.

  • PBS's "A Capitol Fourth" concert, the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans, and Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest will be virtual.
  • Fireworks sales for backyard launches could break records, Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, tells Axios — with some retailers reporting sales of "double or triple what they were last year at this exact same time period."
  • Airbnb says more than one in five of its bookings for the holiday weekend are for getaways in rural areas, a shift away from stays in cities that usually host large Independence Day festivities.

Despite spiking COVID-19 cases, President Trump planned to move forward with a massive fireworks show in D.C. where masks will be made available but not required.

  • But many cities across the U.S. are banning big, public firework displays.
  • Others are trying to find creative ways to minimize large gatherings — like New York City, which is having five consecutive nights of fireworks shows, but without announcing specifics ahead of time.
  • The National Independence Day Parade in D.C. has been cancelled, along with parades and festivals across Virginia, Maryland, Alaska, California, Florida and other states.

The big picture: This July 4th also is being shaped by deeper cultural shifts as Americans reevaluate our nation’s history in the context of centuries of racial inequality.

  • Since George Floyd's killing, there have been national demonstrations and social media campaigns calling for defunding police departments and accelerating institutional reforms. Americans have turned to movies, books and other media in a period of national and personal introspection.
  • Monuments dedicated to men who have long been held up as important historical figures are being torn down.
  • And even as other nations have substantially slowed coronavirus infections, cases and deaths in the U.S. are surging again. As America celebrates the history of its independence from Britain, the European Union continues to ban American travel because of the U.S.'s poor handling of the virus.

By the numbers: American pride has fallen to an all-time low, according to a recent Gallup poll.

  • 87% of Americans said they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. — a trend that has grown across party lines, according to a new study by Pew Research Center. 71% said they feel angry about the sate of the country.
  • Meanwhile, most Americans worry that Independence Day celebrations this year are risky for their health, according to the latest poll in the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.
  • 79% of respondents in an informal poll of more than 1,000 Axios Instagram followers expect their July 4th weekend plans to look "pretty different" than in the past. Most say they won't be attending public parades and festivals or smaller celebrations with friends and family.
  • Said one respondent, Jamie Shepherd, 33, of Los Angeles: "I would imagine 4th of July won’t be any different than any other day."

What to watch: Some backyard celebrations will come with social distancing rules. Family cookouts will have shorter guest lists. Guests may be asked to bring their own food or to stay the night in tents outside. Events may get scrapped rather than moved indoors if the weather turns.

  • Grill sales were up 44% in May compared to a year before, according to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. Backyards and campgrounds are this summer's travel destinations, according to Marissa Guyduy of The NPD Group.

Be smart: The rise in amateur pyrotechnicians launching rockets will likely increase the number of fireworks-related injuries, which typically spike near July 4th.

  • That could be a challenge in places where hospitals also are dealing with new surges in coronavirus cases. “The need for safety awareness regarding fireworks is greater than ever,” said Consumer Product Safety Commission Commissioner Dana Baiocco.
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