Still, Democrats supportive of the former president privately expressed surprise at the casual disregard for optics and wondered why it took until just days before the party for Mr. Obama to change course.
For his part, Mr. Obama was soliciting advice from his most trusted advisers about what the best path forward was for revamping a costly, logistically complicated party that had been months in the making. The former president had baseball caps made for the occasion that read “44 at 60.” He had also hired a “Covid coordinator,” or compliance officer, to ensure the safety of guests.
Valerie Jarrett, one of the Obamas’ closest friends and advisers, was in favor of scaling back the party, according to people familiar with the planning. Mr. Obama, those people said, agreed that if his party was becoming a distraction from the White House’s messaging that everyone needed to get vaccinated and take extra precautions, he would adjust his plans.
“I fully support President Obama’s decision,” Ms. Jarrett said.
So did many residents of the island.
“A lot of islanders were very upset at the prospect of hundreds of people coming for the party,” said Rose B. Styron, the poet and widow of the novelist William Styron, who said she had been invited to a Friday night Obama birthday kickoff at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort. “Everyone is very nervous about getting together at all.”
Ms. Styron said she was hosting friends from California, the writer and producer Roderick Spencer and the actress Alfre Woodard, who had been invited to the main event at the Obama house on Saturday night.
“They didn’t hear that it had been canceled until they were getting on the plane from California,” Ms. Styron said. “We lucked out and we have them for the weekend now. I think they’re pretty happy, too.”