Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
As Virginia officially re-opened and lifted its coronavirus restrictions last Friday (the state has now fully vaccinated 45% of its population, ranking 16th in the nation), President Joe Biden and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam visited Sportrock Climbing Center to speak on the nation’s progress against the pandemic. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who also accompanied the President, is somewhat of a local fixture, having taught at Alexandria’s Northern Virginia Community College for many years. Sportrock has largely re-opened, though the gym still operates “Mask Required Hours” on Mondays from noon to close.
With a large audience of local students and teachers in the gym, following an introduction by a local high schooler, Biden remarked on the recent dramatic reduction in COVID-19 cases, a 93% decline from the week before he took office in January to last week.
He noted that 51% of American adults have been fully vaccinated, including over 75% of senior citizens, and remarked on the continued viability of his goal of getting 70% of adult Americans at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot by the Fourth of July (62% of American adults currently have at least one shot).
Biden’s visit appears in part to demonstrate the possibilities that are open to the American public as more and more individuals are vaccinated. Neither Biden nor the speakers preceding him wore masks, and a large portion of the audience sitting on the boulder mats and almost all of the climbers he visited with were maskless, as well.
It may well mark the first time President Biden has visited a climbing gym, at least during his term as U.S. President. “I’m about to do this 60-foot wall,” he said at one point, gesturing to a route off to the side of the camera (though it remains unclear if he sent).
“I tell ya what, I work out every morning, but I have trouble holding those grips,” he continued. “A young man [in the gym] said to me, ‘The way to work your hands, get a kettlebell and put it under your fingers and work it that way…’ Tonight I’m trying!”