The Morning Jolt

Health Care

Biden Can’t Remember What He Promised on Covid-19 Testing

A person receives a coronavirus test as the Omicron variant continues to spread in New York, N.Y., December 22, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

On the menu today: I would prefer to send you off into the holidays with Christmas cheer, but unfortunately, the news this morning is grim. Roughly one year after Joe Biden pledged, “I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m going to shut down the virus!” the country is experiencing new Covid-driven shutdowns, and the virus is not shut down. Biden says he wishes he had ordered 500 million tests two months ago, forgetting that he pledged to deliver 300 million tests three months ago.

Biden’s Covid-Testing Stumble

As he did during the Afghanistan-withdrawal debacle, President Biden has turned to ABC News for a formal sit-down interview to do damage control. And while the president did not indignantly bark, “That was four or five days ago, man!” he didn’t exactly put on a command performance, either:

“Three days before Christmas, if you look out across the country, you see it everywhere, these long lines, people waiting for hours outside in the cold, just to get tested, to be reassured before they spend time with their family,” Muir said. “If you go to the pharmacy, we hear this over and over again, empty shelves, no test kits. Is that a failure?”

“I don’t think it’s a failure,” Biden replied. “I think it’s — you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago.”

“I wish I had thought about ordering” 500 million at-home tests “two months ago,” he told Muir.

That statement isn’t just the usual presidential excuse-making; it’s another sign that Biden does not remember what he said, promised, pledged, or announced earlier. Recall that Biden’s vaccine mandate gave companies the option of testing employees once a week — which was going to dramatically increase the need for Covid-19 tests. Back in his big announcement of a vaccine mandate for employers in September, Biden pledged that Americans would find Covid-19 tests plentiful and cheap, if not free:

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.

While that production is ramping up, my administration has worked with top retailers, like Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger’s and tonight we’re announcing that, no later than next week, each of these outlets will start to sell at-home rapid test kits at cost for the next three months. This is an immediate price reduction for at-home test kits for up to 35 percent reduction.

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.

And then at the beginning of this month, Biden boasted:

This winter, we are going to make free at-home tests more available to Americans than ever before. To better detect and control the Delta variant, I made testing more available, affordable, and convenient. I used the Defense Production Act to increase production of rapid tests, including at-home tests. . . for those not covered by private insurance, we’re going to make available free tests at thousands of convenient locations — locations for folks to pick them up and take a test kit home. . . .

The bottom line: This winter, you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind.

But the number of test results reported nationally Tuesday was just over 1.6 million — which was about the same number of test results as earlier in the month, and about the same number of test results as in September when the Delta variant wave was hitting, and fewer than testing stretches running from December 2020 to the end of January 2021.

Demand for testing is way up, but the number of test results being reported isn’t up much at all — which suggests that the overall number of tests available hasn’t increased significantly. Some of that might reflect people taking at-home tests and not reporting those results, but . . . you would think the long lines outside public testing sites we’re seeing would cause the total number of test results to jump.

If you look at local news this morning, it’s the same story all over — people can’t find tests on the shelves of stores, and open appointments for those free tests are few and far between — from Houston, Texas, to Cleveland, Ohio, to Santa Cruz, Calif., to Stamford and Waterford, Conn.

As for Biden’s pledge this week that 500 million new Covid-19 tests are on the way and will start arriving in January, today’s New York Times suggests that’s the most optimistic timetable:

Mr. Biden’s administration has not yet signed a contract to buy the tests, and the website to order them will not be up until January. Officials have not said how many tests people will be able to order or how quickly they will be shipped once they begin to be available next month. Manufacturers say they are already producing tests as fast as they can. . . . Whether testing manufacturers can now ramp up to produce an extra 500 million at-home tests — and how soon — is unclear.”

(When you post about an inability to find tests in your area on social media, there’s always some schmo who will respond, “They’re easy to find in my area!” Well, that’s great for you. Maybe your corner of the country has low demand, or your neck of the woods just had a shipment arrive. That doesn’t change the fact that large swaths of America’s densely populated areas can’t find any tests. It’s not that people aren’t looking hard enough, and this is not a vast media conspiracy to make President Biden look bad. Sheesh.)

I don’t want to sound too similar to my colleagues David Harsanyi, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Phil Klein, but the glaring question remains: Why does President Biden seem to focus upon every topic under the sun except what he can control, which is the performance of the executive branch of the federal government? The one part of the pandemic Biden can exert some control over is the FDA and how quickly it can run its approval process for new tests and other treatments. And if Biden doesn’t think the FDA’s approval process is dysfunctional, slow, bureaucratic, and excessively cautious, and he thinks the organization is already moving with all deliberate speed, then he should say so. As it is, Biden simply doesn’t talk about it. He seems to think that disagreeing with any FDA or CDC decision represents not trusting “the science.” (Curiously, it took Biden almost a year to nominate an FDA commissioner, during the biggest public-health crisis the country has seen in a century.)

You Would Have to Be Drunk to Think That, Huh, Mr. President?

President Biden, earlier this week:

What happened was the Omicron virus spread even more rapidly than anybody thought. If I had told you four weeks ago that this would spread by — a day-to-day basis it would spread by 50, 100 percent, 200 percent, 500 percent, I think you would have looked at me and say, “Biden, what are you drinking?” But that’s what it did.

Ironically, a little less than four weeks ago, South Africa announced the discovery of the Omicron variant and declared that, “Many of the changes [in Omicron] have been found in variants such as Delta and Alpha, and are linked to heightened infectivity and the ability to evade infection-blocking antibodies. The apparent sharp rise in cases of the variant in South Africa’s Gauteng province — home to Johannesburg — is also setting off alarm bells. Cases increased rapidly in the province in November, particularly in schools and among young people.”

A Note of Sympathy for Those Still Worried about Spreading Covid

I concur with the editors’ declaration that it is time to drive the “Covid zero” mentality from American life:

Ever since the federal, state, and local governments started taking aggressive action against Covid in March 2020, Americans have been taunted by the promise that if we could just get over one hump, Covid madness would be over. In practice, once we got to the top of one hump, another one became visible in the horizon. And then another one. And another one. And another one.

The only note I would add is that while the federal, state, and local governments must readjust their thinking, it is understandable that certain folks may still live in a heightened state of alert for the virus, for the foreseeable future.

As I laid out on Twitter yesterday, in any given year, roughly 1.8 million Americans get a diagnosis of cancer.

Some of these diagnoses are extremely serious, some are caught early and are treatable. But for just about all of those patients and their families and friends, it is as if the world stops turning, at least briefly.

A lot of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, result in a patient’s experiencing “moderate to severe immunosuppression” — meaning, they’re considered “immunocompromised.” So yes, Covid-19, the Delta variant, and the Omicron variant probably won’t kill you, and if your immune system is working well, you probably don’t have a lot to worry about . . . but for those 1.8 million Americans who were diagnosed with cancer, and the portion who are on treatments that make them immunocompromised . . . yeah, Omicron is something they have to worry about, even if it’s comparably “mild.”

This means everybody who comes in regular contact with a cancer patient must be a little more careful about the risk of catching Covid/Omicron, and inadvertently passing it along. And cancer patients aren’t the only Americans who are immunocompromised and must worry about a pathogen doing more damage to their systems than the average person.

So maybe that person you know who’s really worried about Omicron is a Nervous Nellie or a paranoid germaphobe or a panic addict . . . or maybe that person has a good reason to worry about a particularly contagious variant reaching a loved one who has a compromised immune system.

It’s almost Christmas. It’s a good time to treat each other with a little more patience and understanding.

ADDENDUM: This is the last Morning Jolt until December 27 — again, this is not the way I wanted to close out before the holiday. So, if you celebrate Christmas, I hope you and yours have the merriest and jolliest of Christmases — Lord knows, you’ve earned it. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas . . . have a great Saturday.

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