New Yorkers declared their independence from the COVID-19 crisis on Sunday by heading to beaches, parks and prime spots for watching fireworks — free of the lockdowns, social distancing and masks that wrecked last year’s July Fourth.
In Manhattan, city dwellers and out-of-towners alike arrived early to get onto the FDR for the pyrotechnics set to start at 9:30 p.m.
“It’s on my bucket list, watching the Fourth of July fireworks in New York City,” said Kathy Gaherty, 63, of Connecticut.
“I got here around 12:30 p.m. I’ve been exposed to so much and there are so many things I want to do before I die.”
Gaherty — a retired paralegal who wore a red, white and blue hat, scarf and shoes emblazoned with “USA” — said she previously “watched the fireworks live on TV.”
“I came in yesterday [and] enjoyed the city,” she said.
“I love seeing this operation — people coming together, working in their respective areas to help create a patriotic event like this for the world.”
Murray Hill resident Chris Vitale, 17, said he felt “really good” being outside, although he admitted it was “so odd seeing people without masks.”
“Last year, I stayed inside alone and watched TV,” he said.
“This year I get to party with my fellow New Yorkers. Liberty!”
Another Murray Hill resident who identified himself as Suresh B., a 51-year-old Indian immigrant who works in finance, said he was “elated” that he could “spend tonight with my family and friends — freely.”
“We’re gonna gather on my rooftop tonight, drink Champagne and Budweiser, and celebrate freedom, no pun intended,” he said.
“America is the best — COVID-free.”
Some waiting for the dazzling sky show said they were glad the NYPD was responding to the city’s surge in shootings by using metal detectors to screen people for weapons before letting them onto the closed highway.
“During these celebrations, there are always crazy people lurking in the shadows,” said a woman who identified herself as Laurie M., 30, of the Upper East Side.
“I think it’s better and also, since everyone has access to a gun in NYC, better safe than sorry.”
Maria Sotto, 55, of Staten Island, called the safety plan “perfect.”
“I won’t be looking over my back,” she said.
“There is facial surveillance too, I hope. New York’s security is top-notch, especially in Manhattan.”
But when the screening began at First Avenue and East 34th Street late Sunday afternoon, there were no metal detectors on hand and cops were just checking people’s bags.
A plan announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio last month to separate vaccinated and non-vaccinated people appeared to also have been abandoned.
Fireworks were planned in all 50 states, including the major cities of Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Philadelphia, as well as Ripley, W. Va., which has an estimated population of less than 3,200.
It boasts what it calls “America’s Largest Small Town Independence Day Celebration,” dating to the late 1800s.
The US Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds took to the skies Sunday during the second day of the Kansas City Airshow in New Century. The event was canceled year amid the pandemic.
In Washington, DC, spectators were set to return to the National Mall for fireworks, but the concert that usually accompanies the show was pre-taped for broadcast due to the pandemic.
At Coney Island, Shannah Eggers, 32, of the Upper West Side, said she spends the Fourth of July on the beach but “this year seems to be a little different.”
“Everyone is happier to be here than other years,” she said.
“It’s like, you might get frustrated with all the people under normal circumstances, but now it’s like ‘Oh, all these people!’”
Joe Mannino, 53, of Bay Ridge, said, “It feels great. It feels normal. That’s the thing I like about it. You get back to normal when you’re not cooped up in your house.”
“Last year it was dead, everything pretty much closed up, you had to stay home,” he said.
“But now, you’ve come out, you see the different people, the sun is out –– you can’t get better than this.”
Earlier, a crowd of nearly 5,000 watched as champion eater Joey Chestnut showed his own Spirit of ’76, gobbling down that many franks and buns — beating the record 75 he set last year without a live audience — in just 10 minutes at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
His feat easily bested second-place finisher Geoffrey Esper by 26 dogs.
Michelle Lesco, 37 and just 112 pounds, won the women’s contest by scarfing down 30.75 franks and buns, scoring her first win over Sarah Rodriguez — even though she couldn’t jump to aid her digestion due to a torn ACL.
In Brooklyn’s WNYC Transmitter Park, Chinatown resident Hilary Tunstal, 30, was sitting with her husband on the lawn along the East River ahead of the fireworks show.
“I think this year they are going to do a lot to kind of make up for the lost time,” she said.
“It will feel nice to have a sense of community out here again. It’s nice to see everyone having fun and just relaxing and a lot less stressed out than it has been.”
Washington Pro, 44, of Dover, N.J., was picnicking nearby with his girlfriend and her mom and cousin after arriving around 10 a.m. for his first-ever Big Apple fireworks.
“I grew up in the city and never really cared about it, but this year I feel like it had to be done after living through such an experience of the last year,” he said.
“Take advantage of what you can.”
At Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Leroy Johnson, 58, hosted a cookout for the advocacy group New York Communities for Change, including games, raffles, egg-and-spoon races — and a Caribbean feast of cow feet, rice and peas, curry chicken, and jerk chicken and pork.
“After COVID, we really need to be together,” he said. “As the country’s moving forward, we’re here today to just celebrate and enjoy life and just give God thanks for sparing our lives.”
Kevin Russell, 29, of The Bronx, also helped organize another barbeque to memorialize a friend.
“COVID last year was no joke,” he said.
“It feels amazing to just be outside again, in the public and just breathe that good cookout air that you weren’t able to breathe last year — that good charcoal smell.”
Meanwhile, the holiday weekend is expected to generate more than $100 million in movie ticket sales, with each of the Top 10 films raking in more than $1 million for the first time since before the pandemic, Deadline reported.
Just three franchise releases — “F9: The Fast Saga,” “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and “The Forever Purge” — are expected to account for nearly $72 million in box office receipts from Friday through Monday.