Biden responds to pressure to relax and weighs a new virus response
WASHINGTON (AP), -- Despite growing pressure to relax on pandemic restrictions Wednesday, the White House said it was making plans for a less disruptive phase of the national viral response. However, impatient states like Democratic New York made it clear that they don't wait for Washington to act as the public grows frustrated.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that New York will no longer follow the COVID-19 mandate for face coverings in indoor public spaces. However, it will retain this requirement for schools. Illinois also announced the same.
New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware announced earlier this week that they would join other states that have removed or never had school mask requirements. Massachusetts will follow their lead at the end. Only Massachusetts has governors that are Democrats like President Joe Biden.
Biden, who has promised to "follow the science” in confronting the pandemic is now confined, waiting for new guidance from federal health officials. They have so far recommended that almost all Americans wear masks indoors.
Jen Psaki, the press secretary for Defending Biden acknowledged that people are tired and frustrated by masks and that "we understand the emotions of the nation." However, the administration is following medical experts who rely upon scientific evidence.
She said, "That doesn’t move at speed of politics; that moves at speed of data."
The White House, clearly feeling the pressure, acknowledged that it was making progress in its planning. It said privately that conversations had been held to create plans for leading the country out of the emergency phase.
Jeff Zients, federal COVID-19 coordinator, said that officials are in consultation with state and local leaders as well as public health officials about possible next steps. Governors and local officials are pressing for clearer federal guidelines to ease or end restrictions. However, the states, cities, and school boards are adopting a confusing patchwork of policies that vary widely between each other.
"We are working towards that guidance," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated Wednesday in a White House Teleconference. "As encouraged by current trends, we aren't there yet," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
The White House did not give any indication as to when it would like to review the report or what recommendations it will make. Some critics feel that this is not satisfactory.
"The sad thing is that these governors would probably have followed White House guidance," Dr. Leana, a former Baltimore Health Commissioner, said. They requested input from the CDC and were given a timeline. However, they decided that they could not wait any longer. They are not at fault, but the CDC and, by extension, President Biden, who, with each passing day, become less relevant.
When asked if Biden seems out of touch, Psaki responded with caution. She stated, "As a federal Government we have the responsibility of relying on data on science and on the medical professionals."
When asked whether Americans should follow more restrictive state or local rules, she reiterated the White House's daily advice: "We would recommend any American follow the CDC guidelines."
Hochul in New York and others aren’t waiting. While they are ending or easing broad mandates, her state will continue to mask rules in schools.
Hochul stated Wednesday that, "Given declining cases and declining hospitalizations," Hochul felt comfortable lifting the ban.
Even administration allies have suggested that Biden should at the very least outline a plan for returning to normalcy.
Aides claim that he has been cautious because of the bittersweet feeling of his "declaration to independence" last summer from the virus. This declaration proved premature given the severity of the subsequent omicron and delta strains. However, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined markedly since their peak in early this year, when they were triggered by the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The vast majority of Americans are now protected from the virus with effective boosters and vaccines.
Yet, the U.S. still sees more than 2,000 people with the virus dying each day. There is concern that the government will not be able to contain the epidemic while the number of deaths continues to rise.
Psaki also noted that mask-wearing is supported by many Americans. Some White House officials point out the consternation expressed in December by some Americans after the CDC shortened isolation times for Americans who have tested positive.
Biden and other administration officials insist that the virus threat is much less than it was a year ago. This is before the widespread roll-out vaccines and booster shots, and the approvals of rapid at-home testing and highly effective therapeutics. However, officials from administration acknowledge that federal guidelines are slow to catch up.
The CDC recommends indoor mask wear in areas of "substantial and high transmission" of this virus. This was, as of Wednesday, all of the U.S. except 14 rural counties.
However, state and local leaders have announced plans for easing virus restrictions as omicron cases drop. They cited the protections provided by vaccines and the increased availability at-home testing kits as well as therapeutics for those who do contract the virus. Many restrictions were lifted last year only to be reintroduced when omicron took over the country.
After more than one year of a federally-driven response, the shift is a return to the historical norm where states had traditionally been the first to decide how they handled public health emergencies. Although the CDC can provide general guidance to the nation and advise them, it is not able to tell them what they should do in all cases.
Although the Biden administration has strongly resisted GOP governors' attempts to ban mask-wearing, it is now indicating that it will be more flexible with jurisdictions that make their own decisions.
Walensky stated that policies to lift mask requirements will need to be implemented at the "local level", depending on case rates.
Despite encouraging reports from the Americas, Western Europe, and other regions, the World Health Organization's head insists Wednesday that COVID "isn't over with us."
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus campaign, launched at $23 billion to help fund WHO's efforts in leading a wide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests around the globe.