Aug 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Obama plans birthday bash amid COVID concerns

Former President Obama is seen waving while golfing on Martha's Vineyard in 2015.
President Obama waves while golfing on Martha's Vineyard in 2015. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Former President 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.

Why it matters: The recent breakthrough cases in nearby Provincetown, Massachusetts, after the July Fourth holiday showed the continued risk of spread even between vaccinated people — prompting new masking guidelines from the CDC.

  • "If you're talking about a small party like I might have at my house for six or eight people who are all fully vaccinated, I do not believe, at this point, we need to put masks on to be next to each other," Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
  • While discussing generic masking protocols, not the Obama party itself, he added: "But if there were 100 people, and, of course, how are you really going to be sure about people's vaccination status?"

Among the safety measures said to be put in place: The party will be held outdoors and all guests are asked to be vaccinated. Invitees also must submit their negative test results to a COVID-coordinator within a certain time window before the event.

  • Martha's Vineyard does not qualify as an area of "substantially-high" risk, which was the target of the CDC recommendations.
  • Obama officials did not say whether guests will be required to wear masks.
  • Axios AM also reported Sunday about the extremely low rate of infection for people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Between the lines: Axios' Margaret Talev was told by one person on-island the party will be held at the former first family's $12-million home, which sits on 30 oceanfront acres.

  • The party already is the talk of Uber drivers, hotel maids and check-in clerks.
  • 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.
  • Steven Spielberg also was expected.
  • In lieu of gifts, one person familiar with the gathering said, "guests are being asked to consider giving to programs that work to support boys and young men of color and their families here at home in the United States, empower adolescent girls around the world, and equip the next generation of emerging community leaders."

What they're saying: A White House spokesperson said in a statement to Axios, "While President Biden is unable to attend this weekend, he looks forward to catching up with former President Obama soon and properly welcoming him into the over-sixty club."

  • The official did not address whether the White House harbored any public health concerns about the gathering.
  • One state official said Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, had no insight on the party. Calls placed and emails sent to local and other state officials by Axios also were not immediately returned.

The backdrop: The Fourth of July weekend in Provincetown served as a warning to the rest of the country.

  • Even as most visitors were vaccinated, the New York Times reports the community at the tip of Cape Cod was crowded with over 60,000 people who largely congregated maskless.
  • Scientists have traced 965 cases to those gatherings; 238 of them involved residents of Provincetown itself.
  • Of those cases, only seven people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that Pearl Jam is not playing, to add White House comment and to reflect a person with knowledge of the party saying guests will have to be COVID-tested.

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