In an interview with “60 Minutes,” the president said the pandemic is over, but much work remains. Doctors dismissed the estimate, noting that hundreds were dying every day.
In a wide-ranging interview on the season premiere of “60 Minutes” Sunday night, President Biden surprised many health experts when he said, “The pandemic is over.”
In response to a question from CBS journalist Scott Pelley, Biden also said: “We still have a problem with COVID. We are still working on it a lot. It is… but the pandemic is over. if you notice, no one wears masks. Everyone looks in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.” (Here’s the transcript of the interview.)
Many health experts cringed at the president’s assessment.
Esther Chu, an emergency physician and researcher, writes at Twitter, “The pandemic isn’t over, and acting like it hurts its ability to *ever* end. Just last week, she wrote in an article for MSNBC, “The pandemic is going pretty strong.”
While deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are well below last winter’s highs, the virus continues to take its toll.
After Biden’s broadcast interview, Eric Topol, a physician, author and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said on Twitter, “I wish this was true. What’s over? @POTUSand our government’s will to get ahead of him with magical thinking on the new bivalent boosters.”
Topol added that Biden’s statement ignored the reality of prolonged Covid, the likelihood of new variants and “our current inability to block infection and transmission”.
Gavin Yami, director of global health and public policy at Duke University, disagreed with the president in an op-ed for time magazine. The headline: “Biden is wrong, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.” Yami said the pandemic will end, but we are not at the finish line.
“The main problem with the president saying the pandemic is ‘over’ is that it could hinder our efforts to reach low endemic rates,” Yami wrote. “For example, Congress is less likely to renew funding for COVID-19 measures if the pandemic is ‘over.'”
Hospitals are urging Biden and Congress to approve more federal aid. While they acknowledge that federal aid has helped keep hospitals afloat during the pandemic, they also say they have received no help with the influx of COVID-19 patients infected with the Delta and Omicron variants.
Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, urged the president and lawmakers to support America’s hospitals. More than half of U.S. hospitals could end 2022 with negative margins as hospitals lose billions, the AHA said in a report last week. Hospitals and health systems are also anxious to continue denials of key services, including telehealth, that are related to the public health emergency of COVID-19.
In a media call last week, Pollack also indicated that the fight against COVID-19 is not over. Hospitals continue to treat patients with COVID-19, along with scores of patients who delayed care during the pandemic and now require longer hospital stays.
Hundreds die every day due to COVID-19 (7-day average is 410, The Washington Post reports). The 7-day average number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 is just over 24,000, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jorge Caballero, who co-founded Coders Against COVID, a collaborative organization to address data gaps in the pandemic, told Twitter that he fears that “saying ‘the pandemic is over’ will lead directly to preventable disease and death.”
The Biden administration has sought to clarify messaging about the pandemic.
Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Health and Human Services, reiterated Monday that the COVID-19 public health emergency remains in effect.
“HHS will provide 60 days’ notice to states prior to any termination or expiration,” Lovenheim wrote on Twitter. “As we have done before, we will continue to rely on science to determine the length of PHE.”
Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s chief infectious disease expert, said The Washington Post“We still have a lot of work to do to get it down to a low enough level that we’re comfortable with it.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with 400 deaths a day,” Fauci said in the interview.