The White House on Tuesday defended President Joe Biden’s remarks that the COVID-19 pandemic is “over.”
“The president said – and he was very clear in his ‘60 Minutes’ interview – that COVID remains a problem, and we're fighting it,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “We have to continue to make sure that we are fighting this once-in-a-generation pandemic.”Jean-Pierre said that Biden was acknowledging the “massive amount of progress” his administration has made on the COVID-19 pandemic, citing vaccines and treatments. She did not, however, repeat Biden’s statement that the pandemic is over.
“Just think about where we were when this president walked into this administration, where again, a response to this once-in-a-generation pandemic was mismanaged by the last administration,” Jean-Pierre said in a criticism of the Trump administration. “Now we are in a place where it is a lot more manageable.”Biden in the interview that aired on Sunday stated that the pandemic is over, citing a decline in mask-wearing and saying people are in “pretty good shape.”
“The pandemic is over,” Biden said. “We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it, but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
Biden’s comments have prompted criticisms from public health experts and Republicans alike – although for different reasons.
His statement comes as more than 2,500 Americans are dying of COVID-19 on average each week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.It’s a number that health experts among the Biden administration agree is too high.
“We are not where we need to be if we’re going to be able to, quote, ‘live with the virus,’ because we know we’re not going to eradicate it,” leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said at an event on Monday.
And as recently as this month, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator contradicted Biden’s statement.
“The pandemic isn’t over,” Ashish Jha said at a press briefing on Sept. 6. “And we will remain vigilant, and, of course, we continue to look for and prepare for unforeseen twists and turns.”
Health experts outside of the Biden administration also reiterated that the pandemic isn’t over following the president’s comments.
“The pandemic is not over,” Robert Murphy of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said in a statement. “There are 57,000 reported cases per day of COVID-19 and that may be underestimated by a factor of five to 10 times. There are 3,700 hospitalizations and 400 plus deaths per day. It’s the sixth most common cause of death and more than Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia and kidney disease. If this is over, we lost. I think this was an off-the-cuff gaffe, which Biden is famous for.”
Republicans, on the other hand, criticized Biden’s comments as not aligning with his policies and funding requests to Congress.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote in a letter on Monday that the Biden administration “continues to request un-offset emergency funding from Congress, enforce vaccine mandates, and maintain federal emergency declarations that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”
“Without a clear plan to wind down pandemic-era policies, the deficit will continue to balloon and the effectiveness of public health measures will wane as the American people continue to be confused by mixed messages and distrust of federal officials,” the senator from North Carolina continued.Securing additional COVID-19 funding from Congress was already an issue for the administration even without Biden’s most recent comments. Now, they are sure to be a sticking point for Republicans.
Jean-Pierre said that funding to address COVID-19 and future pandemics is “incredibly important.”
“We have to be prepared for the next potential pandemic, ensuring that we're leading the way when it comes to research, when it comes to development, when it comes to innovating and keeping testing readily accessible,” she said. “So ultimately, if we lose these things, we have to ask them, we have to ask Republicans, why didn't they act?”
Meanwhile, neither the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health emergency declaration for the U.S. nor the World Health Organization’s public health emergency of international concern for COVID-19 has been lifted.