Former President Barack Obama has canceled plans for a nearly 500-guest 60th birthday party planned for this weekend.
The party was set for Saturday on the 29-acre Martha’s Vineyard estate that the Obamas purchased in 2019.
“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 spokeswoman for the former president, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “He’s appreciative of others sending their birthday wishes from afar and looks forward to seeing people soon.”
According to Axios, hundreds of guests were expected, and they had been told they would have to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to attend.
In addition, they would have needed a negative coronavirus test. According to Hankins, a person had been hired as a “COVID coordinator” to make sure COVID-19 guidelines were followed.
The party guests were to include celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, director Stephen Spielberg and actor George Clooney, in addition to hundreds of former Obama administration officials and Democratic Party notables.
Even before the event, some who were invited decided they would not attend. The New York Times reported that White House chief of staff Ronald Klain had decided against going to the party that had garnered some negative comments amid a surge in cases of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
President Joe Biden was not planning to attend the party, according to the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who worked for Obama, was asked if it was “setting the wrong example about how serious COVID-19 is by hosting a big birthday party with hundreds of people this week?”
“Well, I would certainly refer you to the team who is working for my former boss to give you more specifics of what the protocols are in place,” she said.
“But I would note, first, that former President Obama has been a huge advocate of individuals getting vaccinated,” she said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “has provided guidance” on “indoor settings in high or substantial high zones of COVID cases.”
“This event, according to all the public reporting, is outdoors and in a moderate zone,” Psaki said.
According to the Vineyard Gazette, cases of COVID-19 infections have climbed in the past week, with island health agents reporting 24 positive Covid-19 tests last week, “the largest number since late May, with a significant percentage coming among fully vaccinated residents,” the newspaper reported.
Former Obama advisor David Axelrod defended Obama’s planning of the party, saying the cancellation came in response to “changing circumstances.”
“They’ve been concerned about the virus from the beginning, asking invited guests if they had been vaccinated, requesting that they get a test proximate to the event,” Axelrod said. “But when this was planned, the situation was quite different. So, they responded to the changing circumstances.”
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