White House officials spent most of their time this year planning a careful, step-by-step plan that they hoped would help the U.S. get out of its COVID-19 pandemic era.
One thing that wasn’t in the plan was for President Joe Biden to say they were out of it.
President Biden’s sudden announcement that the coronavirus pandemic is “over” has made it harder for the White House to get more money to fight the virus and convince people to get a new booster shot.
It has also given Republicans more reasons to criticize the administration for continuing to extend a COVID “emergency.”
Biden’s comments, which aired Sunday on “60 Minutes,” reflect that more and more people think the virus is less of a threat, even though hundreds of Americans still die every day from COVID.
According to an Axios-Ipsos poll that came out last week, 46% of Americans have returned to their lives before the pandemic.
This is the most people who have answered this way since the pollsters started asking this question in January 2021.
“We still have a problem with covid,” Biden said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it … but the pandemic is over.”
Many of the president’s top health officials didn’t know about Biden’s comments until they read about them on Twitter or in the news.
Two high-level administration officials said that the president had not planned to make big news about Covid and had not talked with his health advisers about announcing the end of the pandemic.
When the White House looked at a transcript of his comments after the interview, which was taped earlier in the week, it did not alert its Covid team.
This meant that the administration did not have a coordinated plan for what to do after the interview aired.
Since then, health officials have quietly and sarcastically patted themselves on the back for a job well done: They joked that after 20 months of working around the clock, all that was needed to end a once-in-a-century crisis was for Biden to say it was over. Others said that the time had come for such a statement. They said that the virus is now manageable and that Biden was just being honest about where his administration has been going for a long time.
However, in the last two weeks, about 65,000 new cases of Covid-19 were reported daily, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the number of reported cases is going down in almost every state.
On average, 400 people still die every day from COVID in the United States. This is a number federal health officials believe is “still too high.”
Officials have also said that the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration will likely be extended at least once more this year.
But local health departments in the U.S. have lifted most of the COVID restrictions, and travel is back to how it was before the pandemic.
In the wake of the summer wave caused by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron, the rate of new hospitalizations caused by the virus has also slowed down substantially.
Public health experts say that widespread immunity from vaccines and previous infections, as well as the growing use of COVID-19 treatments like Pfizer’s Paxlovid, have helped stop the virus from killing as many people, even though it caused a wave of infections this summer.
“We are not where we need to be if we are going to quote ‘live with the virus,'” Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on Monday.
“We still must be aware of how unusual this virus is and continues to be in its ability to evolve into new variants which defy the standard public health mechanisms of addressing an outbreak.”
“Although we are much better off than we were months ago, as the president himself said, we still have a lot of work to do to get it down to a low enough level that we would feel comfortable with it,” Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said in an interview.
“I’m not comfortable with 400 deaths per day.”
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