It felt a little like my gasp when Hillary uttered the term “deplorables” to describe Trump supporters. That meant trouble ahead. Biden’s poorly qualified assertion that the pandemic is over may not have been quite that explosive. But it was a thoughtless communications error.
Sure, we’re not where we were in 2020. Some of us have already had five jabs in the arm. Ignoring the real risks of potentially disabling long Covid, we’re venturing forth. We’re still wearing masks in large indoor gatherings though we’re increasingly in the minority. Along with the cohort of older folks, we’ve gone shopping and attended concerts and plays – masked. We’re attending classes both on Zoom and in person. We’ve dined on restaurant patios and even, despite some trepidation, moved gingerly inside. My husband and I have not (yet) been infected. But we’ve come out from under our rock to rejoin the human race, reveling in the vitality.
We still expect others who have been exposed to test before coming to our house or reschedule their visit. And, yes, there is still the occasional call informing us of the sad news of a friend’s death despite being fully vaccinated from this too-often lethal disease. So, the threat hasn’t disappeared.
We are well aware that Covid remains a leading cause of death in the United States, far worse than the toll exacted by the seasonal flu (which itself is expected to be much worse this year). About 400 people still die every day from Covid, and thousands more get infected. The infection data are likely a dramatic under-count due to unreported and undetected cases.
In the pre-vaccine phase of the pandemic, we accepted a raft of evolving government public health emergency measures. Now with widespread Covid fatigue, availability of vaccines and therapeutics, and mixed messages from public health officials, most of the country has decided to just live with it. What to do has become a personal decision. It doesn’t help that the rate of vaccination has dropped, especially concerning among those over 65 years of age, the most vulnerable population.
The problem with Biden’s loose lips is a political and public health concern. He got out in front of his health and science advisers, never a good move. Worse, he has undercut his own request that Congress approve money for vaccines, therapeutics, test kit distribution, research and public health education. Quick to respond to Biden’s gaffe, Republicans in Congress are already mocking his request for $22 billion in additional funding, which includes money for vaccine distribution and preparedness for future surges. Federal funding for vaccine purchases and distribution is expected to run out in January. The GOP is also challenging the extended mask mandate for federal organizations like the military and Head Start.
Technically, a pandemic isn’t over until the World Health Organization says it is over. For Biden to leap ahead of that official determination will signal to the pharmaceutical industry that it may raise its prices and enforce its patent protections.
Clearly, this is the time for President Biden to stay the course, not be distracted from his duties as captain of the ship.