Two years in to the COVID-19 pandemic — and nearly a year since he took office — President Biden insisted, “I don’t think anybody anticipated” the dramatic surge in cases caused by the more infectious Omicron variant, claiming “it all started all of a sudden” as he was pressed by reporters Tuesday on his administration’s seemingly sluggish response to nationwide coronavirus testing shortages.
But moments later, Biden contradicted that claim, saying he did foresee the looming test shortage and that he had been working on a still-vague plan to distribute by mail 500 million rapid tests to Americans.
“I knew that was coming,” he followed up — even though the details of that plan remained undecided Tuesday.
Minutes earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had told reporters that details of his plan to distribute those at-home rapid tests hadn’t yet been decided upon — indicating the plan was not as long in the making as Biden suggested.
The contradictions popped up after Biden gave his highly anticipated speech on how he planned to combat the Omicron variant surge sweeping across the nation.
“Is it a failure that you don’t have the adequate amount of tests for everyone to be able to get one if they need one right now?” a reporter asked.
“No, it’s not because COVID is spreading so rapidly. You notice it just just happened almost overnight, just in the last month,” Biden sadi of Omicron, which is just the latest variant to crop up from the original COVID-19 virus that the nation has been battling since early 2020.
“So no, it’s not a failure. But alarm bells went off. I don’t think anybody anticipated that this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did. And so the question is, we had a lot of people who have access to tests order them, could have their insurance pay for them, etc.”
He continued: “But all of a sudden it was like everybody rushed to the counter. It was a big, big rush. And I knew that was coming. So what I tried to do is meet with the companies and use the Defense Production Act to get a half a billion more test and figure out how to get them to their homes, et them on the shelves in the store.”
Another reporter pressed Biden, right after, asking, “What’s your message to Americans who are trying to get tested now and who are not able to get tested and who are wondering what took so long to ramp up testing?”
Biden scoffed, “Come on — what took so long?”
He added: “What took so long is it didn’t take long at all. What happened was the Omicron virus spread even more rapidly than anybody thought. If I had told you four weeks ago it this was spread, by day to day basis, it would spread by 50, 100 percent, 200 percent, 500 percent, I think it will looked at me and said, ‘Biden, what do you drinking?”
Biden said, “Now, we don’t know what’s going to happen from here. It looks there’s some evidence that in South Africa where a lot of this started, that is dropping off quickly too. We don’t know.”
Biden’s speech was intended to announce that the federal government will distribute by mail 500 million at-home rapid tests for COVID-19 starting next month, set up federally run testing sites in New York and other hot-spot areas and mobilize 1,000 military medical personnel to deploy to overwhelmed hospitals as needed.
Biden unveiled the new federal plans to fight a tidal wave of Omicron cases in New York City that’s beginning to hit other areas of the country — but there were few details on how exactly the biggest initiatives would work.