Barack Obama scales back 60th birthday bash due to coronavirus concerns

·3 min read

Barack Obama turned 60 on Wednesday, but his birthday bash has been scaled back due to concerns about the rapid spread of COVID-19.

In a statement obtained by USA TODAY Wednesday morning, Spokesperson Hannah Hankins said the former president will now be celebrating the milestone moment with family and close friends in place of the large outdoor party he had planned.

“This outdoor event was planned months ago in accordance with all public health guidelines and with covid safeguards in place. Due to the new spread of the delta variant over the past week, the President and Mrs. Obama have decided to significantly scale back the event to include only family and close friends,” the statement reads. “President Obama is appreciative of others sending their birthday wishes from afar and looks forward to seeing people soon.”

The Obamas planned to host an outdoor party in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, to celebrate with friends, family and former staff members, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY. In order to promote safety, guests were required to adhere to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health protocols, including a testing regimen managed by a COVID-19 coordinator.

Concerns about COVID-19 transmission reignited after the delta coronavirus variant caused a sharp spike in cases around the country in recent weeks. For the first time in more than three months, cases in the U.S. average more than 60,000 per day, according to USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Former President Barack Obama is turning 60.
Former President Barack Obama is turning 60.

The Obamas have been strong advocates for the vaccine, emphasizing "the need and the urgency of our communities getting vaccinated" in a video with Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley in April and getting vaccinated themselves one month earlier.

"Now, as the vaccine becomes more available, I want to make sure that our communities, particularly ones – African American, Latino – as well as young people understand that this will save lives and allow people to get their lives back to normal," Obama said at the time. "The sooner we get more people vaccinated the better off we're going to be."

Concerns about the safety of Obama's birthday gathering circulated on social media Monday, following last week's CDC recommendation that people in COVID-19 hot spots resume mask-wearing in indoor public spaces.

Some users on social media still criticized Obama for organizing an event during a pandemic.

"I'm also turning sixty this month. Big @BarackObama fan but am shocked to hear" about the birthday party, #birthdaypartyof, wrote user @WriterWeegs, who added that she is "vaccinated and canceled a party of four."

Another user called the decision "ridiculous."

One user noted that despite the implemented health guidelines, "the optics on this are horrible."

"We're still in a pandemic," wrote user @emarceg.

"Obama should not have a giant birthday bash during a pandemic," user @denise_dewald added.

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In lieu of gifts, the Obamas are encouraging guests to donate to programs that work to support youth, such as My Brother's Keeper, which helps young men of color; the Girls Opportunity Alliance, which empowers adolescent girls around the world; or the Obama Foundation's Global Leadership programs, which aim to equip the next generation of emerging leaders.

Contributing: Karen Weintraub

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Barack Obama birthday party canceled due to coronavirus concerns

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