Biden: I wish I'd thought of ordering 500 million tests two months ago

Speaking on behalf of everyone, I wish you had too, Joe.

I mean, it’s not like a huge winter surge of COVID was a curveball no one saw coming. Omicron didn’t exist a year ago yet we still suffered our worst stretch of the pandemic due to seasonal effects and holiday gatherings. The “winter wave” is a thing now. Why didn’t the White House anticipate a massive surge in demand for testing?

Actually, the White House did anticipate it. Watch, then I’ll explain.

“Tests,” Joe. Not “pills.”

Anyway, Jim Geraghty went back and re-read the speech in which Biden announced the new federal vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees. Lo and behold, this was tucked away in the fine print:

From the start, America has failed to do enough Covid-19 testing. In order to better detect and control the Delta variant, I’m taking steps tonight to make testing more available, more affordable, and more convenient. I’ll use the Defense Production Act to increase production of rapid tests, including those that you can use at home…

We’ll also expand — expand free testing at 10,000 pharmacies around the country. And we’ll commit — we’re committing $2 billion to purchase nearly 300 million rapid tests for distribution to community health centers, food banks, schools, so that every American, no matter their income, can access free and convenient tests. This is important to everyone, particularly for a parent or a child — with a child not old enough to be vaccinated. You’ll be able to test them at home and test those around them.

That was September 9. So, good news, Joe: You did think of ordering hundreds of millions of rapid tests two months ago. Three months ago, in fact.

The bad news? Sometime between then and now, you forgot.

That wasn’t the first time Biden had promised to increase testing. Politico went sifting through old news reports to see how often he’d cited it as a priority in his COVID strategy. Answer: A lot, starting on his third day in office.

Jan. 22: Biden promises “a war footing to aggressively speed up our Covid-19 response, especially on vaccines and testing and reopening our schools.”

Feb. 17: Biden announces “a series of new actions to expand Covid-19 testing, improve the availability of tests, and better prepare for the threat of variants.”

March 11: Biden says, “We continue to work on making at-home testing available.”

July 6: Biden says, “We’re going to deploy things like testing to expand detection of the virus.”

That’s only a partial sample. Fast-forward to today and the White House is suddenly scrambling on Biden’s promise to make 500 million tests available ASAP, with no prospect of having them in Americans’ hands before Omicron has spread everywhere. The first delivery from manufacturers will arrive in January, Jen Psaki said on Tuesday. It’ll take weeks beyond that before the full allotment of 500 million tests is ready. Even the website where people are supposed to order the tests is a work in progress, not ready for public use.

The least Team Biden could have done would be to get the FDA moving on approving reliable tests that have been tangled up in red tape since literally the start of the pandemic. No dice there either, I’m afraid.

The shortage of rapid tests means more people are having to rely on lab PCR tests to confirm an infection. As more and more demand is rerouted to the labs, guess what’s happened:

Even Biden’s good friend Jim Clyburn, the number three Democrat in the House, can’t get a turnaround within 48 hours:

If you have to wait three, four, or five days for results, what’s the point of getting tested? If you have COVID symptoms, you might as well hunker down, wait for the symptoms to pass, and then get tested when you’re feeling better to make sure you’re no longer infected.

The only mitigating factor for Biden’s testing failure is that it’s not clear Americans will use the tests even if they’re widely available. Some will, and that’ll help limit transmission at the margins, but I keep coming back to the fact that rapid tests are literally free in the UK. And yet:

Not only did Britain set a daily record for COVID cases yesterday, topping 100,000 for the first time, they haven’t been below 25,000 cases per day since early July. Per capita, that’s the equivalent of 125,000 per day, every day, in the U.S. — despite the UK’s abundance of rapid tests. They must be somewhat useful in reducing the spread but clearly they’re not a gamechanger.

Speaking of pills and things Americans might not be willing to do, read Philip Klein’s skeptical take on whether the unvaccinated will be willing to use Pfizer’s new wonder drug, Paxlovid, if they’re infected. It’ll save lives *among the people who take it,* but not everyone will. And it needs to be taken soon after symptoms develop to be effective. How likely are the unvaccinated to do that, Klein wonders?

Those who have refused to get vaccinated at this point are less worried about getting Covid and less likely to go along with public health guidance. So are they likely to race out to a Covid testing center at the first sign of symptoms? And even if they do get an early confirmed Covid positive test, will they take an emergency authorized pill being produced by Pfizer, the same pharmaceutical giant that’s been demonized by the anti-vaxx community for a year?

It’s worse than that. Some anti-vaxxers have pushed the idea that Paxlovid is really just dressed-up ivermectin (“Pfizermectin,” they call it). It’s not true, but someone who’s heavily invested in the idea that a deworming medication is some sort of folk remedy against COVID will be reluctant to abandon it in favor of the new drug. There’ll be an entire cohort that sticks with ivermectin on the theory that Paxlovid is “just ivermectin anyway.” Oh well. You can’t save everyone.