WASHINGTON — President Biden, looking to usher the nation out of the coronavirus crisis into what some are calling a “new normal,” used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to sketch out the next phase of his pandemic response, including a new “test to treat” initiative aimed at providing patients with new antiviral medications as soon as they learn they are infected.
With caseloads declining across the country, the coronavirus — perhaps the biggest challenge of the first year of Mr. Biden’s presidency — took a back seat in the speech to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the economy. The president didn’t miss the chance to praise himself for the Covid-19 trends.
“I know you’re tired, frustrated and exhausted,” Mr. Biden said. “But I also know this: Because of the progress we’ve made, because of your resilience and the tools that we have been provided by this Congress, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines.”
Officials said Wednesday that they would reveal a new, detailed strategy for responding to coronavirus. It will address a wide range of issues including the development of new vaccines and therapeutics, as well as how to keep schools open and businesses open in the event of a pandemic.
The strategy’s purpose is to get the country out of crisis mode. Mr. Biden stated that the virus will not disrupt daily life and Americans will learn how to live with it. While Mr. Biden provided a broad overview of the path forward, he did not provide details.
The “test to treat” initiative appears to be a central component of the new strategy. Under the program, Mr. Biden said, Americans could get tested for the coronavirus at a pharmacy and, if they are positive, “receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.”
Although the pills, made by Pfizer, have been relatively scarce since the Food and Drug Administration approved them late last year, Mr. Biden said in his speech that “Pfizer is working overtime to get us one million pills this month and more than double that next month.”
A White House official said that people could begin receiving pills through the program beginning this month. This includes places like CVS Walgreens and Kroger.
The official stated that the public will be educated about the availability and importance of antiviral treatments. It will also distribute antiviral medication directly to long-term facilities.
Mr. Biden also vowed to prepare for new variants, saying that if necessary, his administration could deploy new vaccines within 100 days of a variant’s arrival. He urged Congress to approve additional funding to allow the administration to stockpile even more pills, masks, and tests.
“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come,” Mr. Biden said. “But I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does.”
Over the past week, as top federal health officials have been debating the new strategy, they have been evaluating a 136-page blueprint by outside experts whose recommendations include stronger air filtration systems in public buildings, billions of dollars in research and a major upgrade to the nation’s public health system.
Titled “Getting to and Sustaining the Next Normal: A Road Map for Living With Covid,” the plan assumes that there will be fewer deaths from Covid-19 this year.
According to the New York Times database, there are an average of 66,000 new cases of coronavirus each day in the United States. This is far lower than the daily caseload of 800,000 reported in January, during the peak of the Omicron variant’s winter surge. However, it is still significantly higher than the daily caseload of June 2013, before the Delta variant caused a summer surge.
Even though Mr. Biden says things are improving, large segments of America’s population are still at high risk. Children under five years of age are not eligible to be vaccinated. New York State Health officials released data on Monday that showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is much less effective at preventing infection in children aged 5 to 11 than in adolescents and adults.
An estimated seven million Americans are more susceptible to severe Covid than others due to their weak immune systems, illnesses, or other disabilities. The White House announced last Wednesday that it was taking many steps to make masks, coronavirus tests more easily accessible for people with disabilities.
“We’re leaving no one behind or ignoring anyone’s needs as we move forward,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday night.
The White House also announced steps on Tuesday to protect nursing home residents and hold providers accountable for unsafe and substandard care, including by expanding inspections and financial penalties on what the White House is calling “bad actor nursing homes” and “poor-performing facilities.”
Biden discovered the hard way that it’s dangerous to try and predict the course of an unpredictable disease. On July 4 last year, he declared that the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” Then the Delta variant hit, and Mr. Biden’s remarks looked naïve.
Now, many Democrats have removed their mask mandates from state and local government across the country. In the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance, more coronavirus precautions will likely be lost.
The guidance does not rely on case counts to determine whether safety measures are necessary. It suggests that 70% of Americans can no longer wear masks, and that they do not need to socially distance themselves from crowded indoor spaces.
Source: NY Times