WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden urged concern but not alarm as the United States set records for daily reported COVID-19 cases and his administration struggled to ease concerns about testing shortages, school closures and other disruptions caused by the omicron variant.
In remarks Tuesday before a meeting with his COVID-19 response team at the White House, Biden aimed to convey his administration’s urgency in addressing omicron and convince wary Americans that the current situation bears little resemblance to the onset of the pandemic or last year’s deadly winter. The president emphasized that vaccines, booster shots and therapeutic drugs have lessened the danger for the overwhelming majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated. “You can still get COVID, but it’s highly unlikely, very unlikely, that you’ll become seriously ill,” Biden said of vaccinated people. “There’s no excuse, there’s no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated,” he added. “This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He also encouraged Americans, including newly eligible teenagers 12 to 15, to get a booster dose of the vaccines for maximum protection. Compared with last year, more Americans are employed, most kids are in classrooms, and instances of death and serious illness are down — precipitously so among the vaccinated. “We’re in a very different place than we were a year ago,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki when asked if the country had lost control of the virus. Still, over the past several weeks Americans have seen dire warnings about hospitals reaching capacity amid staffing shortages, thousands of holiday flight cancelations in part because crews were ill or in quarantine, and intermittent reports of school closures because of the more-transmissible variant. On a conference call with governors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top COVID-19 science adviser, said Americans “should not be complacent” even though initial data shows the omicron variant to produce less severe disease than earlier strains. But, he said, the number of people getting infected by omicron “might overwhelm the positive impact of reduced severity” and “severely stress our hospitals” While most schools across the country remain open, Biden took aim at those that have closed, saying he believes they have the money for testing and other safety measures. “I believe schools should remain open,” he said.
The president also announced that the US is doubling its order for an anti-viral pill produced by Pfizer that was recently authorized by the FDA to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. That means 20 million doses, with the first 10 million pills to be delivered by June.