By Zachary B. Wolf, CNN
President Joe Biden made multiple unequivocal and controversial statements in an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday.
- The coronavirus pandemic is over.
- The US would defend Taiwan if China invaded the island.
- The US would punish Russia if President Vladimir Putin resorted to chemical or nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
On some other topics there was some equivocation.
- On 2024, his plan is to run for reelection, but no firm decision has been made.
- On the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, Biden said he hasn’t seen or been briefed on what documents the FBI found, but his administration is fully read in as it pertains to national security secrets.
- On inflation, he would not promise that it will come down but did argue that it will be brought under control.
Biden interviews are rare
To say that Biden rarely grants wide-ranging interviews is an understatement.
The US leader often talks to reporters but almost never holds news conferences or conducts long interviews.
That makes his interview, conducted last week and aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” worth poring over and we could have dedicated an entire newsletter to any of the above topics.
The White House felt the need to make clear, on the pandemic and on China and Taiwan, that Biden’s words did not equal a policy change.
Given how emphatically Biden declared the pandemic over, let’s look at that one.
How over is the pandemic?
“The pandemic is over,” Biden told Scott Pelley of CBS as they walked around the Detroit Auto Show last week. “We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lotta work on it. … But the pandemic is over.”
He added, motioning around to the floor of the auto show: “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it.”
It is a complicated point of view Biden is taking since, as CNN’s report points out, the US government still designates Covid-19 a public health emergency and will continue to do so through at least October 13, when that declaration is up for possible renewal.
More work to do
Biden is right that there is more work to do. His administration is seeking additional money from Congress to help with vaccine development among other things and Biden’s declaration could chip away at a remaining urgency among lawmakers.
There’s a clear lag among Americans getting vaccine booster shots. Most of the country has gotten vaccinated, but less than half of those eligible have gotten a first booster, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Polls suggest that some parents of kids under 5 now eligible for the vaccine are skeptical of getting it for their children. Forty-three percent of those parents said they would definitely not get their child vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in July.
Vaccines, in addition to booster shots, may not completely stop infection, but they are still the best way to avoid a serious Covid-19 outcome, such as hospitalization or death.
There are tens of thousands of documented cases of Covid-19 each month and hundreds of deaths each day, numbers that the CDC expects will hold steady rather than fall or spike.
Recalling Fauci in April
US officials have flirted with declaring the pandemic over before. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said back in April that the country was “out of the pandemic phase.”
A day later, he said on CNN that his comments had been mischaracterized and that he did not mean to say the pandemic was over.
Changes in the past five months
Fauci and other experts have long said the US would have to live with the virus. That appears to be what’s happening now as the intervening months have seen multiple developments.
- Immunity wanes over time, but nearly every American now has some level of immunity, either through previous infection or vaccination.
- Nearly everyone 6 months and older has access to vaccination.
- A new Omicron variant-specific booster shot has been authorized to hopefully help control spread and hospitalizations.
- The CDC ended recommendations for social distancing and quarantine as means to control the virus and eased mitigation recommendations for schools.
- Treatments like the antiviral Paxlovid, which Biden took when he contracted Covid-19 over the summer, have helped cut down on deaths.
- People are still dying: 425 per day, on average, and more than 13,000 over the past month, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University. That’s too many. But it’s far from a year ago, when the daily average of deaths was well over 2,000.
Americans are acting differently
Whether the pandemic is officially over or not, Americans continue to return to a more normal life. Most Americans, 57%, said in an Axios-Ipsos survey released this month that they are at least somewhat concerned about the virus. But a minority, 28%, said they social distanced in the past week. A somewhat larger minority, 37%, said they had worn a mask more than occasionally. And a strong majority, 64%, said they had gone out to eat.
Nearly half, 46%, said they had returned to their pre-Covid-19 lifestyle.
The other thing Biden said about Covid-19
Biden clearly sees ending the pandemic as a key to his presidency and at least partially blames it for how voters perceive him.
When Pelley asked how Biden why his presidential approval rating was “well below 50%,” Biden almost immediately pointed to uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Biden: I think you’d agree that the impact on the psyche of the American people as a consequence of the pandemic is profound. Think of how that has changed everything. You know, people’s attitudes about themselves, their families, about the state of the nation, about the state of their communities. And so there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, a great deal of uncertainty.
He added that America has surpassed 1 million deaths as a result of Covid-19.
“My point is it takes time. We were left in a very difficult situation. it’s been a very difficult time. Very difficult.”
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