Political noose tightens on Biden as he faces Covid storm

He described the next phase of the White House’s response to Covid – which includes a belated effort to maximize home testing – at another anxiety-provoking time when Americans are bombarded with confusing messages about what they should or shouldn’t. not do in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Earlier this week, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that increased social interaction during the holidays “will lead to more cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths “and added the grim message that” a canceled event is better than a canceled life. ”
London has canceled its New Year’s celebration in Trafalgar Square and Paris has streaked its New Year’s fireworks to keep its citizens away from large gatherings. Israel, which has been at the forefront of Covid research, now recommends anyone over 60 receive a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine amid rising Omicron cases.

Meanwhile, most Americans haven’t even received a first booster yet. And advice on masking – which seems to change constantly – varies by city and state across the country. Atlanta reinstated an indoor mask warrant on Tuesday due to the high level of transmission. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the same thing the day before, just over a month after relaxing it.

Biden’s political stranglehold will only be tightened by disruptions to essential services like education, transportation, health care and the police if workers fall ill as Omicron cases rise – challenges potentials that the administration has not yet addressed in detail.

The president has tried to strike a careful balance in tailoring his messages to the vaccinated and the unvaccinated – knowing he faces a serious backlash if Americans feel a return to closures, business closures, or business closures. schools.

In this increasingly intractable crisis – with his party’s political fortunes inextricably linked to how he handles the pandemic in the New Year – he is leaning on Americans to show personal responsibility, and even a sense of patriotic duty, getting vaccinated and boosted and using common sense precautions.

Biden reassured Americans, and especially those who received a reminder, that they “should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays” as planned, adding, “You did the right thing.” But he had an entirely different message for the millions of unvaccinated Americans, warning them that they “have good reason to be concerned.”

“You are at high risk of getting sick. And if you do get sick, you risk passing it on to others, including your friends and family. And unvaccinated people have a significantly higher risk of ending up in hospital or even dying. “Biden said.

“All those people who haven’t been vaccinated, you have an obligation to yourselves, to your family and, quite frankly – I know I will be criticized for this – to your country,” the president added. “Get vaccinated now. It’s free. It’s convenient. I promise you it saves lives. And I, being honest with God, believe it is your patriotic duty.”

Plans for more testing and backup for hospitals

Biden presented new plans to prepare the country for a potential increase – including accelerating the country’s testing infrastructure; make 500 million free home tests available to Americans in the coming weeks; store masks, gowns and ventilators; call in 1,000 doctors and nurses to help out in overcrowded hospitals; and planning for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to open new pop-up vaccination clinics where Americans can receive booster shots, with two sites already open in Washington state and New Mexico.

But the administration is also clearly on defense of the scarcity of rapid home Covid testing and lines of growth at Covid testing sites across the country. The president sparked a stir when reporters asked him on Tuesday whether his administration should have been better prepared for this moment on the testing front, given that many Americans are frustrated with their inability to buy rapid tests just before they go. plan to reunite with family and friends.

When a reporter asked why it took so long to ramp up testing, Biden replied, “Come on. What took so long?”

“It didn’t take long. What happened was that the Omicron virus spread even faster than anyone thought,” he replied, although many experts in Public Health pointed out that the United States has moved more slowly than other countries to make tests available quickly during a pandemic that has lasted for nearly two years.

Vaccinated Americans Can Live Their Lives, Despite Omicron

Hospitals in some parts of the country are already under intense stress as they prepare for an increase in Covid cases. Dr Donald Zimmer, an emergency physician at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana – where the hospital is at 127% capacity – said staff were “underwater”.

“Our hospital is pulling all the levers it can to try to open up more space for beds, to try to bring in more nurses, technicians and respiratory therapists and to try to open more areas,” said Zimmer in a CNN interview with “Erin Burnett Up Front.” But many patients being treated for Covid are not vaccinated, he noted, and have made the calculated decision not to be vaccinated. “They are taking beds that we know we need for other patients who need surgery for their heart disease or cancer.… These patients do not have access to the care they need for this. moment and it’s quite frustrating. ”

“It’s overwhelming and it’s incredibly stressful,” he said.

In addition to describing the reinforcements the administration is planning for hospitals across the country, Biden has tried to address concerns from many parents that their children may need to quarantine if cases increase in schools after the holidays. Biden noted that children five and older are eligible for the vaccine and that students now have the option to take the test to stay in class if a classmate tests positive. “We can keep our K-12 schools open, and that’s exactly what we should be doing,” Biden said.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sought to amplify this message on Tuesday during an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Newsroom” when asked if the administration is considering expanding testing in schools .

Cardona said his department is working closely with health officials in the administration to ensure there are enough Covid tests available in schools to ensure that students “can stay in school and make sure we don’t spread Covid in schools “.

The Education Secretary dismissed the idea that the United States had gone too far in switching to distance learning during the early days of the pandemic, but noted that the nation is now in a different place.

“I think the precautions we took were necessary, but we are a year away from that,” Cardona said, noting that there were no vaccines at the time to protect children and parents more old people they saw every day.

“We know what works. We know how to protect ourselves. There is no reason our schools should be completely far away. We have to keep our children in class.”

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