Four weeks in July: Inside the Biden administration's struggle to contain the delta surge

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After declaring 'independence from a deadly virus' on July Fourth, Biden and his team were caught flat-footed as the delta crisis spiraled out of control.
Early last month, as the planned Fourth of July blowout at the White House approached, top health officials inside the Biden administration began calling each other with a flurry of anxious questions.

© Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post President Biden delivers remarks to celebrate Independence Day and independence from the coronavirus on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4.

Would the president declare victory too soon? Would the event be seen as beating a virus that was not yet defeated? And would the massive party, with 1,000 guests, contribute to the virus's spread?

While many in the White House had set their gaze on the present — eager to mark the progress that President Biden had made as coronavirus cases dipped below 12,000 per day for the first time since March 2020 — health officials were focusing abroad, where a new variant, delta, had sent cases skyrocketing. Even at home, in lightly vaccinated communities across Missouri and Arkansas, health officials were nervously watching cases rise, driven by delta.

The fears prompted the health officials to relay their concerns to the White House — leading aides to pare back some of the more boastful language in Biden's original speech, officials said.

Even so, in an address titled "Remarks by President Biden Celebrating Independence Day and Independence from COVID-19," Biden hit a triumphant note.

"Today, we're closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus," Biden said to a crowd of mostly unmasked guests gathered on the South Lawn of the White House. "We've gained the upper hand against this virus. We can live our lives, our kids can go back to school, our economy is roaring back."

But in the days after the White House groundskeepers had stowed the white folding chairs and pulled down the paper lanterns, a measure of concern set in among some aides.

"We're going to pay for it," one administration official said privately shortly after the event.

Over the next month, the…
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