- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The novel coronavirus pandemic is at a crossroads, and so is President Joe Biden's messaging strategy as the public and the White House hope to move past the virus after 18 months of upheaval.
Biden is particularly eager to look beyond the current pandemic, meeting with top scientist Eric Lander on Wednesday to discuss the country's preparedness for future public health emergencies. The pivot helps Democrats competing in the 2022 midterm election cycle, but it may be premature as the delta variant spreads across the country.
It is important for Biden to multitask his response to the current pandemic while making provisions for future outbreaks, according to Glen Nowak, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Health and Risk Communication. But the current crisis should be Biden's priority, the former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman told the Washington Examiner.
"If you don't start thinking about what you may have learned and what you might do differently in a future pandemic while you're in a pandemic, you can forget valuable lessons," he said.
The problem is it is a confusing message when the delta variant is undoing progress reported since vaccinations provided the public with a glimpse of normal.
The delta variant is a driving factor behind the U.S. recording almost 100,000 new cases a day, predominantly among unvaccinated people, when six weeks ago, the country had a daily average of 11,000 new infections. The data prompted the CDC to roll out new mask guidance and New York City to mandate vaccinations for city employees and patrons of indoor restaurants, gyms, and other inside activities.
But pandemic politics has changed, and the public's patience with mitigation measures has ebbed.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for instance, stopped short of implementing a mask mandate, disregarding the CDC's recommendation. And while Biden's own vaccine mandate for federal workers and contractors reflects the seriousness of the situation, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged the lack of political appetite for more lockdowns.
Public polling bears out the shift. A Quinnipiac poll published Wednesday, for example, revealed a double-digit drop in the popularity of Biden's pandemic handling, down to 53% approve-40% disapprove from 65% approve-30% disapprove in May.
Concerning Biden's messaging, Nowak suggested the White House foreshadow policy updates better, offer more thorough explanations of decisions, and emphasize empathy with the public because officials want the pandemic to end too.
"Many people would like this to be over and would like life to return to the way it was before the pandemic, but, unfortunately, this virus just keeps changing," he said. "At the end of the day, it's reminding people that the villain here is the virus."
The resurgence of COVID-19 appears to have caught Biden off guard. Despite stagnated vaccination rates, the CDC dispensed with its mask guidance for vaccinated people in May because cases, hospitalizations, and death figures were low. The administration then held fewer COVID-19 task force press briefings and downsized the team, dismissing senior adviser Andy Slavitt.
But with the delta variant reasserting pressure on healthcare systems, Biden has had to turn his and the public's attention back to the pandemic instead of focusing on his infrastructure proposals and other legislative agenda items.
Vaccination is crucial to reducing the current wave of cases, according to Bipartisan Policy Center chief medical adviser Anand Parekh. The White House celebrated vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one shot this week, a benchmark Biden's task force originally set for the administration to meet by July 4.
And Parekh defended the CDC's advice to vaccinated people in states with a high or substantial number of infections to wear masks if they are in indoor public places.
"While we vaccinate more Americans, indoor masking also allows us to break chains of transmission, particularly in light of the highly transmissible delta variant," he said. "And genetic sequencing to track variants and ensuring current vaccines protect against these variants will be critical metrics as well."
For future pandemics, Parekh underscored the need to balance accelerated vaccine and therapeutic development. He pointed to a BPC report outlining opportunities to clarify the federal government's role and responsibilities, in addition to incentivizing states to join a coordinated effort.
Biden met Wednesday with Lander, his science adviser and director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, to "discuss his plan for preparing for future pandemics." Lander's Senate confirmation was delayed, in part, for lawmakers to investigate his connection to disgraced financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Biden promoted Lander's position to the Cabinet, the first time for the post.
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Naomi Lim
Original Location: Coronavirus resurgence catches Biden off guard