President Biden faces hard truths about coronavirus pandemic ahead of major speech

But the president will make another attempt on Thursday to chart a course out of a national nightmare that is starting to look like a grim, repetitive, and permanent reality – and to prove he’s the leader who can reach that elusive destination.
His speech will coincide with a frightening new dimension of the emergency, with children now accounting for about one in four new infections, with hundreds in hospitals, an increase that terrifies parents and threatens school itself.

The raging resurgence of the crisis this summer, fueled by the Delta variant of the virus, has not only sowed even more human misery – with daily deaths averaging over 1,500. It has infringed on the widespread perception that normalcy – vacations, family visits, returning to the office – could return in hopes of a summer of freedom earlier this year. The relapse into the crisis also damaged Biden’s credibility as the president-elect to put the pandemic in the past, as he said on July 4 that the nation was emerging from a “year of pain, fear and pain. heartbreaking loss “and left a clear impression that the worst was over.

But as CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta pointed out on Wednesday, the situation is in some ways more acute now than it was a year ago – and that takes into account the miracle of vaccines highly. effective. This Labor Day, there were 3.5 times more Covid-19 infections, 2.5 times more hospitalizations and double the number of average daily deaths than at the same time a year ago, Gupta reported, citing figures from Johns Hopkins University and the US Department. health and social services.

The pandemic has yet to follow exactly the same pattern of rise and fall as last time around. With the growing realization that previous expectations of Covid-19 elimination were too optimistic, there is a need to take a national toll and reset the new expectations that only a president, with his megaphone and profile, can achieve. . In some ways, Biden is like a wartime president girding his people for many months of struggle. And Thursday’s speech will be closely watched to see how ready to share the truths Biden – who has said during the campaign that he would always give directly to the country.

Given political sensitivities, he may not be as blunt as emergency room doctor Megan Ranney, who on Wednesday offered an unvarnished diagnosis of the country’s new reality.

“Covid is never going to go away. Anyone who says we are going to eradicate it or that it is defeated, honestly, is lying,” said Ranney, associate dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.

“Covid is going to be here forever. We have to learn to deal with it, and we have to make it into something that is not as dangerous as it once was.”

Biden facing a medical and political emergency

The current miserable reality is clearly not entirely Biden’s fault. He spent months begging Americans to take free, effective, ubiquitous vaccines that in most cases virtually eliminate serious illness, hospitalization, and death – and which millions of people have taken and used to. regain some semblance of their previous life. The fact that near-deliverance of Covid-19 – barring a new variant escaping the vaccine – is within reach, but millions more refuse to take advantage of it is a puzzling window into the vicious polarization of the nation and its deep mistrust of government. Even now, that toxicity is exacerbated by politically motivated attacks on the public health boards of several Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, who oppose masks in schools.

But Biden undoubtedly faces a political emergency as he is likely to be judged more than anything else on his handling of the pandemic and as his job approval ratings start to erode ahead of the year of the midterm elections.

The administration has not been faultless. Recent confusion over whether booster vaccines will be available after September 20 has slightly tarnished the White House mantra that science, not politics, is their beacon. Some experts believe the easing of mask-wearing guidelines by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year – which had to be reinstated as Delta increased – was premature. And declaring partial independence from the virus on July 4 appears to be another case – like the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan – of political timetables leading to event rather than reality.

Biden’s finicky mood and intransigence during the Afghan crisis means he has additional personal and political motive to establish a new command narrative on the pandemic.

White House promises specific goals

While another presidential speech seems unlikely to change the minds of vaccine skeptics who doubt its legitimacy, the president could make an emotional argument that getting the vaccine helps protect American children. Research shows that most children do not get seriously ill from Covid-19. But if thousands of people are infected, even small percentages of severe cases are rising rapidly, explaining why pediatric hospitalizations are reaching record levels. It is becoming quite clear that there will be no return to normalcy until vaccines are cleared for children under 12 – a step that is not expected until the end of the year. at the earliest and perhaps later.

In the face of these bewildering developments, it behooves the president to refocus the nation’s attention on the task ahead, to try to restore morale and deliver the kind of uncompromising truths he has promised in as a candidate.

The president is expected to present a six-point plan, including increased testing and mask requirements, new approaches to employer or business vaccine requirements and booster shots for those already vaccinated, reported Wednesday. CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins.

Hospitals “flooded”

One group of Americans particularly keen to hear from Biden will be the doctors, nurses and health workers who have been at the epicenter of the disaster for over a year and who are exhausted and, in many cases, overwhelming. more desperate in the face of people who refuse. to get vaccinated.

There is no doubt about the horror they face. In West Virginia, for example, hospitals are “inundated” according to Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who for weeks warned his fellow citizens that refusing the shot is like playing the death lottery. Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Wednesday that medical centers across the state were getting to the point where they would have to ration care due to overcrowding.

“We’re in a really tough situation,” Beshear said.

North Carolina said on Wednesday it was seeing a sharp increase in Covid-19 clusters among school sports teams, another manifestation of the growing challenge of keeping in-person education on track.

The new phase of the pandemic was highlighted by new data from the American Academy of Pediatrics this week showing that 26.8% – of weekly Covid-19 cases nationwide were in children. The definition of a child varies from state to state, but generally includes children up to the age of 17 or 18.

The accuracy of the data is confirmed by the experience of frontline health workers like Dr. Patricia Manning-Courtney, chief of staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“At this time last year, I was very reassured to be able to tell families that I was not so worried about their children, that most of the children did not get sick and that the children resisted very well. “Manning-Courtney told CNN. ” Writing.”

“And that has completely changed,” she said, adding that a number of pediatric patients in Ohio were in intensive care and on ventilators. And while children with pre-existing conditions were most at risk, there are also other children who get very sick.

“I can’t promise any family that their child wouldn’t get very sick if they caught Covid,” Manning-Courtney said.

The worsening plight of children was the latest and most alarming sign that the pandemic has entered a new phase. During the Afghan crisis, Biden described his job as making judgments that others would not or could not make. He faces another of those fateful moments in the pandemic.

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