As Omicron Surges, Biden Urges Americans to Learn to Live With COVID

  • President Joe Biden’s remarks this week signal a shift in his administration’s COVID-19 strategy.
  • He once stressed “independence” from the virus, but is now preparing Americans to live with COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, some of his former medical advisers flagged that it’s time to seek a “new normal.”

As President Joe Biden spoke on the pandemic from the White House this week, he outlined a series of points that coalesce into a new strategy for America’s fight against COVID-19 — learning to live with the coronavirus.

Where his administration previously emphasized curbing transmission and mitigating the spread of the virus, Biden this week pivoted toward a more endemic approach to the virus.

On Tuesday, he took a multi-pronged approach: pushing to keeping schools open, shoring up medical infrastructure to reduce deaths, resupplying the public with self-test kits, using Pfizer’s coronavirus pill to alleviate serious illness, and chiefly, getting Americans vaccinated.

With the vaccines and booster shots, Biden said, “you can control how big an impact Omicron is going to have on your health.”

“You can still get COVID, but it’s highly unlikely — very unlikely that you become seriously ill,” he said.

Inoculated Americans should be “concerned about Omicron” but not alarmed, Biden said.

“But if you’re unvaccinated, you have some reason to be alarmed,” the president continued. “Many of you will — you know, you’ll experience severe illness, in many cases, if you get COVID-19 if you’re not vaccinated. Some will die, needlessly die.”

Health experts who worked on Biden’s advisory board during his presidential transition now recommend that he doubles down and focuses on a fresh national strategy for a “new normal” in the pandemic.

Six of his former advisers penned opinion pieces in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Thursday, offering steps the US should take in testing, mitigation strategies, vaccines and therapeutics, and preparing Americans for another pandemic.

“The goal for the ‘new normal’ with COVID-19 does not include eradication or elimination,” they wrote in one article. 

Instead, that goal is “recognizing that SARS-CoV-2 is but one of several circulating respiratory viruses that include influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and more.” People have lived normally with these viruses, the experts wrote, though they noted that COVID-19 has resulted in significantly more deaths and hospitalizations.

One suggestion was to set thresholds that compare COVID-19 weekly deaths, hospitalizations, and prevalence to that of other respiratory viruses. The US can use these thresholds to recommend pandemic policies and guide health systems, they wrote.

When asked about the experts’ articles, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told The Wall Street Journal that Biden’s “ultimate goal continues to be to defeat the virus.”

“The president’s focus and objective is to save as many lives as possible,” she told Fox News.

Before his closing remarks, Biden implored Americans to keep wearing masks. “Folks, I know we’re all tired and frustrated about the pandemic. These coming weeks are going to be challenging,” he said.

“There is a lot of reason to be hopeful in 2020 [2022]. But for God’s sake, please take advantage of what’s available, please,” he added.

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