WASHINGTON – As Americans gather to celebrate Independence Day across the country, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden celebrated on the South Lawn of the White House. Our freedom, our freedom, our independence. Fourth of July is a holy day in our country. A day in history, filled with hope, remembrance and determination, promise and possibilities, Biden said in remarks ahead of a fireworks display. The president sounded upbeat, promising that the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a killer virus” while warning that “COVID-19 is not defeated.” He also highlighted several signs of a return to normal life, including the reopening of schools, a faster-than-expected economic recovery and the resumption of many in-person activities. He keeps a personal note with the exact number of Americans who have died from COVID-19. “As of tonight, that number is 603,018 people who have lost their lives,” he said, stressing that each person who lost was a member of a family and community. “We also remember all those who … lost families to causes other than death and the cruel vicissitudes of fate. They also left their loved ones, unable to breathe and mourn their loved ones,” he continued. The military, the first responders, included a barbecue for military families and essential workers, whom Biden thanked for their continued service to the country throughout the pandemic. “It is a great honor to be your commander in chief,” the president said to the assembled service members. Biden also praised Americans for their individual roles in defeating the Corona virus, which he called “one of the remarkable achievements in American history,” before urging people to vaccinate and view it as a patriotic act. “The best defense against these variables is vaccination. My fellow Americans, it’s the most patriotic thing you can do. So please, if you don’t get vaccinated, do it now. For yourselves, for your loved ones for your community.” Celebrating Progress: Biden’s first major social event to mark a “summer of joy” as pandemic risks remain in some places in March, Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated “to make this Independence Day really special.” He urged Americans to recognize July 4 as a date to “begin to determine our independence from this virus,” after setting a standard that the country must reach 70% of adults who receive the vaccination, a threshold that many public health officials say is sufficient for herd immunity. Since Biden’s announcement, the administration has promoted vaccines in a blitzkrieg across the media and working with states and localities to increase access and increase public trust. More: July 4th at the White House is an annual tradition. Here’s how it started, the country has fallen a bit behind Biden’s goal, with 67% of adults having received at least one dose by the holiday. Vaccination rates were not even across the country; 20 states and the District of Columbia passed Biden’s benchmark, with 30 states behind, and Biden also touched on the importance of democracy, a recurring theme in his presidency. “Every day we are reminded that nothing is guaranteed about our democracy,” the president warned. Biden then warned that “the right to vote and to count that vote” is sacrosanct, referring to the administration’s efforts to boost voting rights across the country. Follow Matthew Brown Online @mrbrownsir.