President Joe Biden declared the coronavirus pandemic “over,” in apparently off-the-cuff remarks that reflect the growing sentiment that the threat of the virus has receded, even as hundreds of Americans continue to die of COVID each day.
“We still have a problem with COVID,” Biden said on “60 Minutes,” which aired Sunday night. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it … but the pandemic is over.”
Biden made the remarks Wednesday during an interview at the auto show in Detroit, referencing the crowds at the event. The annual auto show had not been held since 2019.
“If you notice, no one’s wearing masks,” Biden said to CBS News reporter Scott Pelley. “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.”
While Biden’s comments were extemporaneous, they may complicate his administration’s so far unsuccessful efforts to secure additional funding from Congress for more coronavirus vaccines and treatments and to take other steps intended to combat the virus.
Republicans on Sunday night raised questions about why the administration would renew its ongoing public health emergency if the pandemic is over. That emergency declaration, which is set to expire next month, has allowed federal officials to pursue flexible solutions amid the crisis, including rapidly authorizing new COVID treatments and keeping many Americans covered by Medicaid, the safety-net health program. The Urban Institute, a think tank that conducts economic and social policy research, has estimated that as many as 15.8 million Americans could lose Medicaid coverage after the government ends its emergency declaration.
Biden’s comment that the pandemic is over came as a surprise to administration officials, according to two senior health officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. The White House on Sunday night did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The administration for months has maintained that the virus is on the retreat, citing the growing availability of vaccines, tests and treatments to fight it and the population’s expanding immunity. Biden’s remarks came at a moment when new daily infections are down to just over 57,000 — the lowest they have been since late April — although that is probably a dramatic undercount since most people test themselves at home and do not report their infections to local and state health officials.
Nevertheless, the disease continues to exact a toll, with more than 30,000 people hospitalized and more than 400 dying each day, according to seven-day averages compiled by The Washington Post.
“We have a virus out there that’s still circulating, still killing hundreds of Americans every day,” Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said at a news briefing Sept. 6, warning that the emergence of new variants could pose additional risks. “I think we all as Americans have to pull together to try to protect Americans … and do what we can to get our health care system through what might be a difficult fall and winter ahead.”
The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday warned that the pandemic was not over and that important work remains to combat it around the world.
“We are not there yet but the end is in sight,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO. “We can see the finish line. but now is the worst time to stop running.”
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Biden said the pandemic continues to exact a deep psychological toll.
“I think you’d agree that the impact on the psyche of the American people as a consequence of the pandemic is profound,” the president said. “Think of how that has changed everything … people’s attitudes about themselves, their families, about the state of the nation, about the state of their communities.”