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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.

Go deeper

Sep 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Former FDA chief: U.S. has to continue to "chip away" at new vaccinations

Screenshot: Axios

The U.S. will have to find new ways to get unvaccinated Americans inoculated against the coronavirus to curb the pandemic, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said during an Axios virtual event on Friday.

Why it matters: President Biden announced several efforts to boost new vaccinations, including requiring more than 80 million Americans working in the private sector to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or produce a negative test result at least once a week.

11 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

11 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."