Hot new White House COVID strategy: "Hold on and hope the worst is over soon"

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Sounds like surrender.

It certainly doesn’t sound like “I’ll shut down the virus,” Biden’s frequently repeated campaign promise on the trail last year.

With the U.S. now recording upwards of a million cases per day and actual infections estimated to be five to 10 times that number, probably the best spin the White House can muster at this point is that every country in the world is under siege from Omicron. There’s no government magic trick anywhere that can be used to stop a variant that spreads faster than anything this side of measles, including among the triple-vaccinated. (Not even in China.) Trump, Lincoln, George Washington — all of them would have struggled to contain Omicron.

But maybe they would have thought ahead a few months and geared up production of rapid tests? Or organized an all-hands-on-desk effort to mass-produce N95 masks that actually limit transmission? I’m guessing Lincoln’s strategy would have been more proactive than “cross your fingers.”

The new reality has further darkened the mood among White House aides already frustrated by the lack of progress toward ending a pandemic many initially believed could be dispatched within a year. It’s also accelerated the administration’s pivot toward preparing people to live with the virus indefinitely. In interviews, officials described the next few weeks as a triage operation focused on containing the reverberations of the surge well enough to avert breakdowns in essential services, mass school closures and overrun hospitals…

[E]ven as the president sought to project calm, he conceded there was widespread confusion among Americans about the virus’s spread. And health officials inside and outside his administration privately acknowledge that there’s little new left for the federal government to do but hold on and hope the worst is over soon

Privately, the administration has clung to data in foreign countries that suggest Omicron could burn itself out just as quickly as it arrived, meaning case counts could begin dropping off as early as February in early-hit parts of the country.

That’s from Politico, which describes the White House’s new pandemic ambition to fight the virus “to a draw” and end the “COVID malaise” that’s weighed down Biden’s presidency, a term that must send shivers down the spine of Team Joe given its echoes of the Carter era. There aren’t enough tests, there aren’t enough quality masks, there’s no test-and-trace program worth speaking of (although having one might not be useful with a virus as ubiquitous as Omicron), and the feds can’t get their act together in delivering clear guidance. Of the CDC’s new shift in quarantine guidance, Politico reports that “Administration officials have since insisted that the change is grounded in science, though two people with knowledge of the matter said the turbulent rollout touched off a fresh round of finger-pointing over who was responsible for the garbled messaging.”

The “strategy” now, such as it is, is to tell people for the eight millionth time to get vaccinated and then rub a rabbit’s foot in hopes that the speedy decline of cases in South Africa also plays out in our older, much more obese population. Eighteen months ago, the strategy was … different:

“[I]t’s just luck that this highly transmissible variant appears to be less dangerous than other variants to those with prior immunity,” Zeynep Tufekci writes today. “If it had been more deadly — as Delta has been — the U.S. government’s haphazard and disorganized response would have put the whole country much more at risk.” That point shouldn’t be overlooked as this plays out. Biden’s one real achievement on COVID during his first year was to build on the vaccine rollout that began under Trump, instilling a degree of immunity in the population broad enough to make Omicron present as more of a flu in most cases than COVID. But even that might not have spared us from a huge surge in deaths if the variant had evolved to be more instead of less virulent. The lack of tests and quality masks could have meant a steep toll in fatalities.

As it is, go figure that Team Joe wants to focus on their one real achievement when fielding questions from reporters on COVID:

In fairness, she’s not wrong…

…but she’s kind of wrong.

I’ll leave you with this guy, whose tireless efforts to undermine Biden’s one real COVID achievement (which was Trump’s COVID achievement first) has led him to a new logical turn. I have no idea why he’d believe that vaccination, which teaches your immune system to recognize the spike protein on the original Wuhan strain prior to infection, might make you more susceptible to infection from Omicron. Presumably he’s looking at the data that shows most people who have Omicron are vaccinated, but that’s unsurprising in a population where a great majority have had their shots and are now facing a variant capable of puncturing their immunity. For what it’s worth, I had two relatives hospitalized for COVID pneumonia in New York this week. Both were unvaccinated. Three other relatives, all triple-vaxxed, are fine.