Washington (AFP) – President Joe Biden declared victory too early the last time that Covid seemed to be ending in the United States. This time, he risks being late.
The Democrat, elected on a promise to defeat the pandemic, finds himself in an increasingly tricky position as the receding Omicron virus spurs Americans into dreaming of a return to normal life.
Many leaders in Republican-controlled states have long tried to act as if Covid-19 was already over, even as their hospitals filled with sick and dying voters.
Now, though, with cases truly plummeting, Biden allies are joining in.
California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island: in just a few days, the list of Democratic-led states declaring an end or relaxation to two years of mask rules has flipped from a trickle to a flood.
Biden? He’s still waiting for the word from the Centers for Disease Control — and the CDC wants Americans to stay masked.
“At this time, we continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission — that’s much of the country right now in public indoor settings,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters Wednesday.
Biden’s chief spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, defended the president’s caution.
“As a federal government we have a responsibility to rely on data, on science,” the press secretary told reporters. “He will make the decision based on what the CDC advises.”
Burned by premature declaration
The White House insists that Biden is led by medical facts, in contrast to his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s repeated attempts early on in the pandemic to downplay the global crisis and to ignore warnings from science staff.
“He has made the commitment to the American people… (to) listen to the data, listen to the science,” Psaki said.
But Biden is also haunted by a premature declaration of victory last summer.
Back then, the coronavirus seemed to be under control, with the virus retreating and vaccination drives going strong. He even declared the July 4th national holiday a day of “independence from Covid-19” and held a White House barbecue for 1,000 guests.
However, a frightening new variant, Delta, was just taking hold and the even more transmissible Omicron variant had yet to come. Hundreds of thousands more Americans would still die from the disease.
Today, the positive trends appear undeniable.
The seven day average of daily cases is down 44 percent from a week ago, according to the CDC. Average daily hospital admissions are down nearly 25 percent.
Those kinds of figures have many politicians saying it’s time to listen to voters, not just scientists.
“We have to learn how to live with Covid as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase,” New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy, a Democrat, said Monday when he announced the imminent end to mask mandates for school children.
Psaki said the White House understands the competing demands.
“We recognize that people are tired of the pandemic. I bet all of you are. I certainly know I am,” she said.
But “our focus continues to be that everyone follow CDC guidance… and we know that wearing masks effectively reduces transmission.”