President Biden sounded shaky Monday about his administration’s ability to lead the US out of the COVID-19 pandemic and back to normal, telling a group of governors at the White House that “we got a way to go on that, in my view” as Americans grow restless with social restrictions nearly two full years into the pandemic.
The president made the comment to members of the National Governors Association while discussing how he’d like states to standardize their coronavirus policies.
“I know you spoke today with … the head of my COVID team [Jeff Zients] in here,” Biden said. “We got a way to go on that, in my view, but we’re moving. And so I think it’s all about making sure we have the same standards we’re applying across the board.”
Seconds later, Biden said the administration was “gonna try like the devil to keep schools open,” even as several districts return to virtual learning, citing a surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant.
“We do know — study after study, as all of you know and you’ve done, the great universities in your states have done them — is that, you know, losing a semester can put a kid back a year and a half,” Biden said. “And so, there’s a whole lot we can — have to do, in my view, to focus. And I think that keeping schools open is a big part of that.”
US COVID-19 cases are falling after smashing all-time records in mid-January due to the highly infectious but less lethal Omicron variant. But deaths are continuing to increase and the daily death rate is at the highest level since last winter’s COVID-19 wave, when vaccines weren’t widely available.
As of Friday, the seven-day daily average of US COVID-19 deaths stood at 2,265, according to CDC data, despite the fact that 80 percent of US residents age 5 and older have had at least one vaccine shot.
Meanwhile, a Monmouth University poll released Monday found that about 70 percent of Americans agree with the statement “It’s time we accept that COVID is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives,” though 62 percent said they are still “somewhat” or “very” concerned about a member of their family developing severe illness.
The survey found that 89 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independent voters agreed with the need to move on, compared to just 47 percent of Democrats.
The poll found plunging approval of Biden’s handling of the pandemic — with just 43 percent of respondents saying he’s doing a good job, down from 58 percent last January — and widespread doubt that the country will ever be able to get the pandemic under control.
Just 6 percent thought the US would have COVID-19 “under control and be able to return to normal” within the next month or two, while another 13 percent thought it would happen by summer. By contrast, 32 percent anticipated the pandemic being squashed in 2023 or later and 28 percent said it would never happen.
Despite the bleak outlook, 52 percent still support state-level mask and social distancing guidelines, while 45 percent were opposed to such rules. But there was less support for employer vaccine mandates — with 43 percent in favor and 53 percent opposed.
“Americans’ worries about COVID haven’t gone away,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “It seems more to be a realization that we are not going to get this virus under control in a way that we thought was possible just last year.”
Biden also told the governors that there’s “a lot to do” to reduce a surge of illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border. In fiscal 2021, which ended Sept. 30, there were more than 1.7 million arrests at the border — the most since at least 1986.
“On border security, Guv, we’re working a lot with the neighboring countries. A lot to do. There’s a lot, I think. One of the fundamental things we got to do in addition to some of the changes that we will make that we won’t get into today, but is if we figure out why they’re leaving in the first place,” Biden said.
“It’s not like people sit around and say in Guadalajara, ‘I got a great idea. Let’s sell everything we have, give it to a coyote to take us across the border, leave us in a desert in a country that doesn’t want us, we don’t speak the language. Won’t that be fun?’ You know, there are gangs we’re working on, there’s a whole lot of illegal movement. But there’s also a way to begin to deal with the reason they’re leaving in the first place.”
Biden in March appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to address the “root causes” of migration from Latin America, but monthly border apprehensions continued to surge. Harris said last week in Honduras that reducing migration can’t happen “overnight.”
Republicans generally blame the border crisis on Biden’s policies and his pro-immigration campaign rhetoric.