President Biden said Friday that Americans will have to learn to live with COVID-19 long-term but that things will “be better” — despite CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warning that US coronavirus cases are poised to hit new record highs almost two years into the pandemic.
Biden erroneously told reporters his team is in the process of acquiring “500,000” tests to fight the highly contagious Omicron variant, misstating the actual figure of 500 million.
“Is COVID here to stay?” NBC News reporter Peter Alexander asked Biden at the White House before the president departed to tour wildfire damage in Colorado.
“No. I don’t think COVID is here to stay, but having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay,” Biden said. “But COVID, as we’re dealing with it now, is not here to stay.”
Biden, who vowed to “shut down the virus” during his presidential campaign, noted that “we have so many, many more tools we’re developing and continuing to develop that can contain COVID and other strains of COVID” and added that “the new normal is not going to be what it is now; it’s going to be better.”
Biden spoke as schools again closed in Chicago, Atlanta and other major cities due to the highest-ever rates of COVID-19 cases.
“If you take a look, we’re very different today than we were a year ago, even though we still have problems,” he said. “But 90 percent of the schools are open now. It was 98, it’s down to 90 that’s open now because we spent the time and the money in the recovery act to provide for the ability for schools to remain open.”
The president continued: “We talk about, you know, how we’re dealing with testing. Well, you know, we have been doing now — we’ve 300 million tests per month so far, and that’s 11 million tests a day. In addition to that, we’ve — we’re in the process of ordering 500,000 new tests. And so, we’re going to be able to control this.”
Three weeks ago, the White House said Biden would mass-mail 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests as infections surged. But the Biden administration has neither finalized contracts to acquire the tests nor launched a website for people to request them — and it’s unclear if they will arrive in time to address the Omicron wave.
The White House reportedly rejected an expert plan in October to mass-distribute at-home rapid tests ahead of a possible holiday surge in COVID-19 cases. But Biden belatedly embraced the idea late last month as cases increased.
The more contagious Omicron variant has caused infections to surge far above prior viral waves — even though 78.7 percent of all Americans ages 5 and up have had at least one vaccine shot, according to CDC data.
On Monday, a record-breaking 958,000 people tested positive for COVID-19, according to the CDC — blowing away last winter’s peak of 294,000 new cases on Jan. 8, 2021. The true rate of infection is believed to be much higher because many people are asymptomatic or don’t report the results of at-home rapid tests to authorities.
Preliminary data indicate that Omicron symptoms are less severe, but hospitalization rates are up dramatically across the country. As of Thursday, there were about 126,000 US hospital patients with COVID-19 — suggesting the figure could soon surpass the prior hospitalization record of 133,000 patients last January.
Meanwhile, Walensky told NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning that while the spread of Omicron may have peaked in countries like South Africa, “I don’t believe we’ve seen that peak here in the United States.”