Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and George Clooney were supposed to come. Pearl Jam was set to entertain the guests. Now, Barack Obama, who turns 60 on Wednesday, will have to settle instead for celebrating his milestone birthday with Michelle and a much smaller crowd. A huge outdoor bash for the former president, with a reported guest list of nearly 500, was scheduled to take place on Martha's Vineyard this weekend, complete with celebrity invitees, Democratic donors, Obama administration bigwigs, and even a "COVID coordinator" to make sure everyone followed health and safety protocols. Now, however, "due to the new spread of the delta variant over the past week," the Obamas have opted "to significantly scale back the event to include only family and close friends," Obama spokesperson Hannah Hankins said in a statement to NBC Boston and CBS Boston.
Hankins adds that the party, which raised eyebrows when announced, had been in the works for months, "in accordance with all public health guidelines and with COVID safeguards in place." The downsizing came in the wake of last week's CDC report outlining just how contagious the delta variant really is, and amid the agency's shifting guidelines on a return to masking up. CBS notes that Dukes County, Mass., of which Martha's Vineyard is a part, is now showing a "substantial" risk of COVID transmission as of Wednesday. The CDC recommends wearing face masks indoors, even if you're fully vaccinated, if you're in a county of either "substantial" or "high" transmission (check your county's status here). The New York Times reports that some of Obama's guests were already en route to the Vineyard via ferry for the party. "When this was planned, the situation was quite different," former Obama adviser David Axelrod says. "So they responded to the changing circumstances." (Read more Barack Obama stories.)