WASHINGTON — The latest wave of the coronavirus is once again reminding President Biden how difficult it is to stay ahead of the pandemic.
Vaccine effectiveness has declined in Delta and Omicron’s attack. A spike in demand for testing puts a strain on the system. And masks remain a political issue across the country.
Nearly a year into his presidency, Mr Biden’s promise to “stop the virus, not the country” remains only partially fulfilled. The stubborn resistance to vaccines among millions and the arrival of the rapidly spreading new variant has turned the president’s plans for a hopeful holiday season upside down.
Just a week before Christmas, Mr. Biden had to warn of gloom.
“We are facing a winter of serious illness and death – if you are not vaccinated – for themselves, their families and the hospitals that will soon overwhelm them,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday. “The whole point is: Omicron is here. It will spread much faster at the beginning of the year, and the only real protection is to take your photos.”
The issuing of serious new warnings is not where Mr Biden or his top advisers expected them to be at this point in the year.
The plan was to shower the virus with vaccines that would virtually stop its spread and allow the country to fully reopen. In July, Biden went so far as to declare the nation nearly “independence from a deadly virus.” When the Delta variant put those plans aside, Mr. Biden accelerated efforts to provide vaccines and booster vaccines to as many Americans as possible. .
But by the end of this week, some schools, restaurants and theaters had closed and many Americans felt like they were back where they started two years ago. Mr Biden’s health advisers did what they could to paint a better picture.
“Unlike last winter, we now have the power to protect ourselves,” Jeff Zies, the president’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters. “Our vaccines work against Omicron, especially for people who get booster shots when they qualify.”
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that when vaccinated people get sick with Omicron, “these cases are milder or asymptomatic.”
The reassurances have been of little help to Mr Biden politically as a pandemic now entering its third year continues to weigh on his presidency.
The third – and largest – piece of his economic agenda has stalled in Congress due to ongoing fighting within his own party. Mr Biden’s pledge to protect voting rights with legislation falls short of the votes needed for approval. And his pledge to finally provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants was met with another blow this week by the Senate MP.
Perhaps most ominously, Biden will enter 2022, a midterm election year, amid growing concerns about the economy just as he hoped a receding pandemic would improve voters’ prospects. Unemployment is near all-time lows, but rising inflation, partly due to pandemic problems in the supply chain and pent-up consumer demand, is fueling dissatisfaction with Mr Biden.
A recent NBC News poll showed that only 37 percent of Americans approve of the president’s way of handling the economy, while 56 percent disapprove of it. An ABC/IPSOS poll showed similar results, with more than two-thirds saying they disapprove of the president’s handling of the issue of inflation.
White House officials have repeatedly said they believe the public’s feelings about their economic situation are being shaped — and soured — by the pandemic. When asked why so many people disapprove of the president’s economic policies, White House press secretary Jen Psaki blamed what she called virus fatigue.
The coronavirus pandemic: important things to know
“We are still in the midst of fighting a global pandemic, and people are tired of that; so do we,” she told reporters at a recent White House briefing. “And it affects how people live their lives, their fear of sending their children out, to go to work.”
The president’s plan to help the nation through the winter storm includes booster shots for all adults, an expansion of home testing paid for by health insurance plans, stricter rules on international travel, the use of new antiviral pills to help prevent hospitalization and new efforts to boost schools. to keep open.
On Friday, the CDC announced a new policy that will allow even unvaccinated students who have been exposed to the virus to remain in school as long as they test negative twice in the days following exposure. The so-called test-to-stay protocol aims to help national schools stay open during the latest wave.
Biden is left with a doubling of the approach he’s taken for most of the year: begging Americans to get vaccinated.
“Go and have another chance today,” he said on Thursday. “Go for a boost after you’ve had your first two shots. If you haven’t already, go for your first chance. It’s time. It’s time. It’s past. And we’re going to protect our economic recovery if we do this. If we do this, we will keep schools and businesses open. And I want to see everyone around me enjoying it. I want to see them enjoy the fact that they can go to school, that businesses are open and that the holidays are approaching.”
Biden’s plan to require larger companies to have their employees vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly has been embroiled in a legal battle. On Friday, a federal appeals panel reinstated the rule, a month after another court blocked it. The Supreme Court is expected to resolve the matter, but the government has encouraged companies to adopt the rule despite that uncertainty.
The question for Mr. Biden and his team is whether something they are doing can help calm Americans’ psyches as they brace for potentially more months of Zoom meetings, canceled sports games and masks.
In his briefing on Friday, Mr. Sees to assure the public that “this is not the time to panic, because we know how to protect people and we need the tools to do it.”
“But,” he added, “we need the American people to do their part.”