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 still took the opportunity to give a slap on the face for the Covid-19 trends.
“I know you’re tired, frustrated and exhausted,” Mr. Biden said, adding: “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 that they would present a new, detailed strategy for responding to coronavirus on Wednesday after White House officials had been working on it. It will address a wide range of issues including the development of new vaccines and therapeutics, and how schools and businesses can continue to be open even if the pandemic becomes more severe.
The strategy’s goal is to get America out of crisis mode. 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 spoke on condition of anonymity to give additional details. He said that people could start receiving pills through the program this month at places like CVS Walgreens, Kroger, and Walgreens.
The official stated that the initiative will also educate the public about new antiviral treatments and the importance to start them as soon as possible after symptoms appear. It will also distribute antiviral medications directly to long-term care 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 asked Congress to increase funding for the administration’s stockpile of pills, tests, and masks.
“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 average daily coronavirus caseload of 800,000 in January, during the winter surge that was fueled by Omicron variant. However, it is still significantly higher than the daily average caseload of about 800,000 in January, when the Omicron variant was at its peak.
Despite the fact that Mr. Biden claims that things are improving, large portions of the American population are still at 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.
A staggering seven million Americans have weak immune systems or other disabilities that make them more susceptible to severe Covid. 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 are leading state and local governments across the nation, who have abandoned their mask mandates. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last week, 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