President Biden will toe a delicate line when discussing the coronavirus pandemic in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. His White House has been working on a detailed strategy to transition the nation into what some are calling a “new normal,” but Mr Biden is unlikely to outline the plan in his speech.
Instead, he will speak in broad strokes about the pandemic. With cases declining and the 2022 midterm elections approaching, Mr Biden will argue that the United States has “made tremendous progress” against the coronavirus since he took office, according to a White House official who spoke anonymously to preview the president’s remarks.
But he will also remind Americans that the virus is unpredictable, and that they must remain vigilant. And it will pledge itself to remain vigilant, preparing for the possibility of future variations.
According to a New York Times database, an average of about 66,000 new coronavirus cases are reported each day in the United States. That’s far less than the average daily caseload of around 800,000 in January, at the height of the winter surge fueled by the highly infectious Omicron variant. But that’s still more than five times what the number of daily cases was last June, before the Delta variant caused a summer surge.
Even as Mr Biden proclaims things are looking up, large segments of the US population remain at risk. Children under 5 are not yet eligible for vaccination. On Monday, New York state health officials released data showing that the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech is significantly less effective at preventing infection in children ages 5 to 11. years than in adolescents or adults.
And an estimated 7 million Americans have weakened immune systems, illnesses or other disabilities that make them vulnerable to severe Covid. The White House announced last week that it was taking several steps to make masks and coronavirus testing more accessible to people with disabilities, and Mr. Biden will most likely highlight those efforts in his remarks on the state of the Union.
Mr. Biden has learned the hard way that predicting the course of an unpredictable virus is a dangerous business. On July 4 last year, he said the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence in the face of a deadly virus.” Then the Delta variant hit, and Mr. Biden’s remarks sounded naive.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Mr Biden needed to “acknowledge both the physical and emotional pain we’ve been through”, while showing a “genuine humility with it”. virus, because we still don’t know what the next six months will bring.
The president must also face the reality on the ground. State and local governments across the country, many led by Democrats, have dropped their mask mandates. More coronavirus precautions are likely to leak following new guidelines released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The guidelines no longer rely solely on the number of cases to assess whether masks and other safety measures are necessary; this suggests that 70% of Americans can stop wearing masks for now and no longer need to socially distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces.
While Americans are eager to outgrow the pandemic, there is also apprehension, according to a new survey from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Overall, about half the public expects it to be safe for most people to ‘resume normal pre-pandemic activities’ by the end of spring, including a third who say it is already sure to do so, according to the survey. But a majority of Americans, 61%, also worry that lifting restrictions will put people with compromised immune systems at risk.
“The conventional wisdom seems to be that Americans are ready to throw off all Covid restrictions and be done with it, but the survey shows the reality is much more complicated,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO. of the foundation. “A large part of the public is both anxious and eager to get back to normal.”