President Joe Biden says that the Covid-19 pandemic is “over” — a declaration that is prompting some pushback from public health experts and could further complicate his administration’s months-long effort to secure billions of dollars in additional pandemic funding.
What Biden said: In an interview that was recorded last week and aired Sunday night, Biden strolled through the Detroit Auto Show with Scott Pelley of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” who asked whether the pandemic is over.
“The pandemic is over,” Biden replied. “We still have a problem with Covid. We're still doing a lot of work on it. It's -- but the pandemic is over.”
What his administration says: Those comments reportedly surprised some administration officials and come less than two weeks after the White House’s own Covid-19 response coordinator told reporters that “the pandemic isn’t over” as he laid out plans for a fall campaign to have Americans get updated vaccines and discussed annual shots going forward.
“We will remain vigilant, and of course, we continue to look for and prepare for unforeseen twists and turns,” Dr. Ashish Jha said at a press briefing on September 6. “But this week marks an important shift in our fight against the virus. It marks our ability to make COVID vaccines a more routine part of our lives as we continue to drive down serious illness and deaths and protect Americans heading into the fall and winter.”
A Biden administration said that the president’s comments do not represent a change in policy and that there are no plans to lift the public health emergency in place since January 2020, CNN’s Betsy Klein reports. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told Yahoo Finance that Biden is correct and was reflecting what many Americans feel, adding that vaccines are still needed.
What the numbers say: The seven-day average of new cases has fallen by nearly 30% over the past two weeks, dropping to the lowest level since early May, according to data from The New York Times — yet there are still nearly 62,000 new cases being reported daily, and that official number massively undercounts the true number of new infections because it does not include people who are testing at home. More than 450 people are still dying from Covid-19 each day, or about 3,000 people a week.
What public health experts say: Biden apparently impromptu comments raised some alarms among public health experts.
“Wish this was true,” tweeted Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “What's over is @POTUS’s and our government's will to get ahead of it, with magical thinking on the new bivalent boosters.” And Dr. Kavita Patel wrote: “There is a fine line between injecting a sense of optimism/hope and telling people the truth that with 400-500 deaths/day plus a very unpredictable winter ahead it’s far from over.”
Why it matters: Besides the public health implications of Biden’s comments, which could be significant, the White House this month also requested another $22.4 billion in funding for Covid-19 testing, research and preparation — money it said is “vital to our ability to protect and build on the progress we’ve made.” Republicans have opposed any additional Covid-19 funding, arguing that the administration should find the money it needs from previously authorized spending.
“Republicans on Sunday night raised questions about why the administration would renew its ongoing public health emergency if the pandemic is over,” The Washington Post’s Dan Diamond reports, noting that as many as 15.8 million Americans could lose Medicaid coverage once the emergency ends, according to estimates from the Urban Institute.
While new Covid-19 funding reportedly is unlikely to make it into the stopgap spending bill Congress needs to take up before the end of the month, the president’s comments could also make it harder to secure additional money down the line. “The administration is currently taking some steps to move pieces of the pandemic response toward the commercial market, efforts that are likely to be accelerated in the absence of federal funding,” CNN notes.
The bottom line: Go get your Covid boosters.