Barack Obama is scaling back the big bash planned for his 60th birthday because of concerns about the national rise in Covid-19 cases, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“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,” Hannah Hankins, a spokesperson for the former president, said in a statement. “He’s appreciative of others sending their birthday wishes from afar and looks forward to seeing people soon.”
About 700 people, including Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, were expected to gather this weekend at the former president’s mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, an island in Massachusetts.
David Axelrod, a former top Obama adviser, told the New York Times that guests were asked if they were vaccinated and to provide the results of a Covid-19 test close to the event.
But in the past two weeks, the White House and local governments have been adjusting Covid-19 guidance on masks and gatherings as cases of infections rise in every state.
About 52% of the US population has not received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization and death for all current variants, but vaccinated people with so-called breakthrough infections can transmit the virus. Scientists are still trying to understand the rates of infections in vaccinated people and how likely they are to spread it to someone else.
The Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, said on Tuesday he was not invited to Obama’s party and would have declined the invitation anyway. “I think 700 people at an event like that is not a good idea,” said Baker, who said he was concerned about older people and people with illnesses that put them more at risk of a serious Covid-19 infection.
Baker said: “For some of us, we don’t fall into those categories, maybe it’s not as big a deal, especially if you’re vaccinated. But even if you are vaccinated among some of those more vulnerable populations, we should all be very careful.”