Biden puts politics over science with COVID-19 pronouncement

SAN ANTONIO — A little more than three months before the 2020 presidential election, Ted Cruz made a cynical prediction.

This state’s junior U.S. senator said that if Democratic nominee Joe Biden won the presidency, Democrats who had spent most of that year sounding the alarm over the COVID-19 pandemic would suddenly declare that our public-health emergency was over.

“I guarantee you the week after the election, suddenly all those Democratic governors, all those Democratic mayors, will say, ‘Everything’s magically better. Go back to work. Go back to school. Suddenly all the problems are solved,’” Cruz said.

Cruz’s prognostication turned out to be false.

Biden, with the support of his fellow Democrats, spent his first year in office pushing hard for public vigilance against COVID-19.

He not only stepped up the distribution of the COVID vaccine — which became available only a month before he took office — he risked major political blow back by using his power to impose vaccination mandates.

Six months into his presidency, with the virus’s Delta variant driving up infection rates, Biden mandated that service members receive the COVID vaccine.

He also required federal workers to either offer proof of vaccination or wear a mask to work and socially distance themselves from their co-workers. In a particularly controversial move, Biden extended the mandate to employees of federal contractors.

In September 2021, Biden took his vaccination drive a step further: dictating that all workers at businesses with at least 100 employees to either get vaccinated or face weekly COVID tests.

That last move was a mistake, an overreach that spurred immediate legal challenges and extreme public hostility.

But no one could call it an act of political expediency. Biden knew he was inviting the wrath of millions of Americans when he rolled out that plan.

Less than a month after Biden announced his vaccine mandate for businesses, a NASCAR crowd at Talladega Speedway in Alabama launched into a profane, anti-Biden chant while a reporter interviewed race winner Brandon Brown.

The reporter suggested that the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Brandon,” which inadvertently created a nationwide code-language way of swearing at Biden.

Biden’s willingness to suffer politically for the cause of slowing down the worst pandemic of the past 100 years was admirable, no matter where you stand on his specific policies.

That’s why it was so disheartening to hear Biden, during a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sept. 18, declare that the pandemic is now in our rear view.

Biden was walking through the Detroit Auto Show with “60 Minutes” reporter Scott Pelley, when Pelley pointed out that this year’s show was the first since COVID-19 emerged in early 2020.

Pelley asked the president if the pandemic had ended.

“The pandemic is over,” Biden said.

“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one is wearing a mask. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it.”

It was an obvious example of politics pushing science out of the room.

Biden’s party clings to thin majorities in both houses of Congress (if you count Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking role in a 50-50 Senate). We’re six weeks away from midterm elections that carry the potential to flip both of those houses to Republican control.

Biden understands that Americans are beyond fatigued with COVID-19. Over the past few months, even the most cautious among us have lowered our guards. Those who still wear masks, even in crowded, indoor, potential-superspreader settings, are the outliers.

Coming off a string of summer legislative wins, and seeing his poll numbers tick upward, Biden wants to project optimism. He doesn’t want to incite the “Let’s Go Brandon” brigade or come off as the hand-wringer-in-chief.

The problem is that his assessment is wrong.

While we’ve come a long way from the dark days of January 2021 (when more than 3,000 Americans were dying on a daily basis from COVID), we’re still averaging more than 400 daily deaths and 29,000 hospitalizations from this virus.

Early this month, a new COVID-19 bivalent vaccine booster was rolled out, with the promise that it not only targets the original strain of the virus but the highly transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants.

Three weeks after the bivalent vaccine was introduced, however, only 1.5 percent of eligible Americans had received it. Having the president tell us the pandemic is over won’t help that cause one bit.

ggarcia@express-news.net | Twitter: @gilgamesh470

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