Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday dismissed the notion that the administration should change it’s Covid-mitigation strategy to contend with the highly transmissible — and by all indications less virulent — Omicron variant, insisting that “tools are available to slow this thing down.”
“At what point does the administration say, ‘You know what? This strategy isn’t working. We’re going to change strategies. Six former administration officials last week wrote that open letter urging the administration to change course, to change strategy. Is it time?,” NBC News host Craig Melvin asked Harris during an interview released Thursday.
“It is time for us to do what we have been doing and that time is every day,” she replied, suggesting that the administration has yet to reflect on the failure of its Covid policies to stop the spread of the virus, as was the original goal.
“Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down,” she added.
Harris’s comments came just hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top Covid advisor, conceded that “just about everybody” will ultimately contract Omicron.
“Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody,” Fauci told J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on Wednesday. “Those who have been vaccinated … and boosted would get exposed. Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death.”
Fauci, however, has not called to end all mitigation efforts because he believes it’s important to slow the spread of the disease to reduce the burden on the hospitals. Even though Omicron appears to be milder than its variant counterparts, causing minor illness in the vast majority of those who contract it, Fauci said it would be unwise to “get complacent” because more infections will still result in more hospitalizations.
The U.S. has “not seen a concomitant increase in the relative percentage of hospitalizations” amid a massive increase in cases, he said in early January, but he noted that hospitalizations are oftentimes “late lagging indicators.”
Given the Covid surge, six health experts on Biden’s former advisory board published articles urging the country’s leadership to reassess both the plan and strategy. While in early 2020 the articulated mission was to eradicate the virus, the number of strains suggests governments and populations may have no choice but to coexist with it.
With Covid cases skyrocketing, projected to reach unprecedented levels for the pandemic, the many mitigation measures the federal and state governments have imposed are coming into question, since none have successfully slowed the virus. Many health officials have all but admitted that no amount of social restrictions can inhibit the virus from spreading, rendering most mandates effectively symbolic if not totally useless.
During a White House Covid-19 Response briefing Thursday, a reporter asked Biden: “Mr. President, what is your message for vaccinated Americans who are wondering why they should continue to restrict their activities given that health officials say most Americans will get Covid at some point?”
“Folks, we’ll talk about that later. Come on,” Biden responded.
While the administration has not made any dramatic Covid policy pivots, Biden’s willingness to keep schools open and businesses operating even when cases are climbing indicates a reevaluation and the possible acceptance on his part that the virus will become status quo like seasonal illnesses. The CDC’s recent decision to reduce quarantine time from ten to five days also seems to reflect that.