Given his habit of reversing himself throughout the pandemic, it’s only fitting that last night’s declaration that the pandemic is over also had to be reversed.
This may be a record for him, in fact. Usually it takes at least a full 24 hours for him to stake out a position and then have a change of heart.
I wonder if he got a call from the White House this morning informing him that last night’s soundbite was unhelpful. Either way, he’s now clarifying that when he said the “pandemic phase” is over, he didn’t mean that the pandemic is over. The key word was “phase,” not “pandemic”!
Fauci also said comments he made during an interview with PBS’ “Newshour” on Tuesday, in which he said the U.S. is “out of the pandemic phase,” were being misconstrued to imply that he said the pandemic has ended.
“We certainly cannot say the pandemic is over,” Fauci told CBS News. “It is not over.”…
Fauci described where the U.S. is now as a “decelerated” and much more “controlled” phase…
But “that does not mean we are out of the woods,” Fauci added, pointing out that the number of cases is starting to “creep up” again. He said Americans must be on guard, and urged people to be vigilant and to prepare for new surges and variants, should they arise. The U.S. needs to avoid another spike in hospitalizations, he said.
He said the “pandemic phase” was over but what he meant was the “fulminant phase” of the pandemic, in which cases and hospitalizations skyrocket in a matter of weeks, was over.
Like the Force, the pandemic will be with us. Always.
If you’re looking for reasons to believe that the White House twisted his arm to walk this back, note that Jen Psaki was also keen at today’s briefing to say that the pandemic isn’t over:
Jen Psaki contradicts Fauci who said the U.S. is "out of the pandemic phase."
"COVID isn't over, and the pandemic isn't over." pic.twitter.com/uOZKKSiDZv
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) April 27, 2022
You know why the White House is skittish about this. Biden declared “independence from the virus” last July 4, then watched as the country was smacked with a viral 2×4 in the form of the Delta variant a few weeks later. Five months after that, Omicron descended on America and infected … everyone, pretty much. Team Joe has already had its premature “mission accomplished” moment on COVID. They don’t want another one courtesy of Fauci.
They also don’t want to piss off the “zero COVID” fanatics in their base, who are quick to pummel experts who think it’s ever appropriate to relax restrictions, including medical doctors who spent most of the pandemic urging audiences to take precautions. That explains why Biden deferred to the CDC on whether to appeal the Florida ruling striking down the transportation mask mandate. He could have said “to hell with it, the pandemic’s over” and refused to appeal, but progressives would have had a conniption and he knew it. The “safety first” ethic abides among his base.
But it abides only among his base. Democrats already lost a governor’s seat in Virginia because normie voters think the left’s support for restrictions is excessive. And Biden got elected two years ago promising to get America back to normal. So while he wants to avoid a new “mission accomplished” moment, he also wants to signal that he’s kept his promise and that *some* degree of pre-COVID normalcy has been restored. Which is why Psaki was keen to say this at today’s briefing as well:
.@PressSec on @WHCA Dinner: "He's not attending for the eating portion of the dinner and he'll be there for the program…his speaking and his roasting where he will be on the menu, as he likes to say, when Trevor Noah is speaking. So, just like anything, it's a risk assessment." pic.twitter.com/6ghRTz5vtx
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 27, 2022
Fauci isn’t going to the White House Correspondents Dinner. Despite being nearly the same age, Biden is. Is it wise for a 79-year-old president whose VP already has COVID to put himself at risk by attending a large indoor gathering? Not really, but it’s a small gesture he can make towards normalcy. And the more “normal” Americans feel this fall, the less angry they’re apt to be at Democrats when they go in the booth.
Besides, if Biden gets infected there, he’ll be fine. Probably.
“The president is vaccinated, boosted, and will be receiving very good medical care,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “He’s also relatively healthy. Under the circumstances, it’s about as good as you can get.”
When the super-contagious Omicron variant first emerged late last year, Hanage said he and other public health experts immediately worried about the virus reaching Biden. Age is the single biggest risk factor for severe complications of Covid-19; people over 75 are 140 times more likely to die if infected than 18- to 29-year-olds, according to hospital data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that includes both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“But one thing that has become clear since then is that Omicron is intrinsically more mild than Delta,” said Hanage. Large studies in South Africa and the U.K. both showed that an infection with Omicron carried with it lower risks of hospitalization. Notably, the U.K. study found that the older a person was, the higher those reductions in risk were. “That’s very important because if you’re an older person, you’re far better off getting infected with what’s going around now then what was going around six months ago,” said Hanage.
Not that he wants to get infected, but catching COVID and then recovering from it might help him a bit politically by convincing some doubters that he’s not as frail as he often seems. It’s going to happen eventually; it might as well happen when he’s just a month removed from his second booster and his immune system is in fighting shape.
Exit question: What’s the over/under on how many people will end up infected at this weekend’s inevitable superspreader event? Using the Gridiron Dinner as a benchmark, I’m going to guess 75.