Morgan Artyukhina All materialsWrite to the authorAs the US sees the most dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases thanks to the ultra-transmissive Omicron variant, the Biden administration seems to be doing the opposite of rushing to meet the crisis head-on. Instead, he seems intent on undermining what little trust remains in his pandemic response.As I write this article, roughly three-quarters of my family has Covid, none of whom have ever had it before, and my city of Washington, DC, leads the nation in skyrocketing Omicron cases. To so many, it seems like everyone they know has caught the virus – a reality that US President Joe Biden acknowledged last week when he said in a national address that the variant would not send the US “back to March 2020.”For Biden, vaccines, masks, and “resolve” are the key American weapons against COVID-19 today. Although his presidency began in January with a framework of social support programs and he signed a large relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, into law early on, the advent of mass vaccination has shifted his administration’s focus, allowing it to steadily shed nearly all responsibility for protecting Americans from the virus.That has included shredding the moratoria on evictions and foreclosures, which have resumed despite millions remaining behind on rent as the pandemic continues, and ending the federal unemployment benefit, despite millions remaining without work for so long they’ve dropped out of the workforce and aren’t even counted in Department of Labor statistics any longer. COVID-19 tests, now in such high demand, were trashed over the summer as Washington sent the signal that the pandemic was effectively over. Even after the Delta variant hit, these attitudes only accelerated.Meanwhile, the wealth of US billionaires has increased by 62% since the pandemic started, and the stock of the nation’s healthcare giants, relied upon to produce the masks, vaccines, and personal protective equipment that will become forever necessary to keep us safe as Covid makes the accepted and inevitable switch from pandemic to endemic, has risen ever higher.
In November 2020, as the US entered the deadliest wave of the pandemic thus far, Biden called for a “robust and immediate federal response” to the “surge” in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, saying then-President Donald Trump’s response had been “woefully lacking.” However, 13 months later, Biden said on Monday that “there is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level.”The about-face came just days after his famously callous spokesperson, Jen Psaki, told the 27% of the country that hasn’t gotten a single vaccine shot yet, including all children under the age of 5, they would be “looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.”This kind of messaging when so many people remain hesitant or opposed to getting vaccinated is the opposite of what is needed. The US’ profit-driven private healthcare system has alienated and frustrated so many Americans, is it any wonder millions refuse to “trust the science?” Biden’s administration should be reaching out to the unvaccinated with educational programs to compassionately and patiently address their concerns with facts, not bullying them with callous dismissals that reinforce the very worst conservative stereotypes about liberal elitism.
Abrupt changes to public health regulations that have stood for the past two years have done nothing to engender trust in science, either: for example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shredded the commonly held logic of a 10-day quarantine period by halving it on Tuesday and saying that asymptomatic people aren’t at risk of transmitting the virus to others.”The reason is that with the sheer volume of new cases that we are having and that we expect to continue with Omicron, one of the things we want to be careful of is that we don’t have so many people out,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of Biden’s coronavirus response team and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told CNN on Tuesday.
“We want to get people back to their jobs, particularly those with essential jobs, to keep our society running smoothly,” he added, making clear that the driving concern isn’t Americans’ safety, it’s employers angry about workers being out due to contracting a potentially deadly illness.Also on Tuesday, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulator suddenly pulled an emergency standard protecting healthcare workers, saying it would replace the temporary measure with a permanent one it is working to finalize.Until then, OSHA has very nicely asked employers, for whom the regulator exists to protect workers against, to continue to abide by the lapsed emergency standard, leaving workers “without protection except for weak General Duty Clause,” as OSHA’s former deputy assistant secretary, Jordan Barab, put it.
From where I’m standing, it almost looks like Biden is deliberately trying to destroy what remaining trust Americans have in their government and its ability to provide trustworthy guidance in times of crisis and great strife. Instead, it seems like he’s now blatantly catering to the desires of the country’s richest and most powerful, who have feared since March 2020 that Washington might try to put people ahead of their profits again, which Trump promised them at the time the US would never again do.