U.S. President Joe Biden declared the COVID pandemic “over” in an interview with CBS News aired Sunday evening, as the country winds down more of its pandemic-era restrictions.
Biden’s views on the pandemic were recorded on Wednesday, during the president’s visit to the 2022 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. This year’s convention was the first since 2019, after organizers canceled the 2020 and 2021 shows owing to the COVID pandemic.
Biden’s remarks on COVID were not part of his prepared remarks, reports Politico.
The U.S. president noted growing public fatigue with COVID measures. “No one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape,” Biden said. Yet the president warned the U.S. still has “a problem with COVID,” and said the government was “still doing a lotta work on it…but the pandemic is over.”
The White House is negotiating with Congress to release tens of billions of dollars in funding to pay for vaccines, treatments, and tests. Biden officials are warning that without new funds, the U.S. may no longer be able to provide vaccines and treatments for free.
The finish line?
Biden’s words echo earlier comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser. In August, Fauci told National Public Radio that he expected COVID to become “more of an endemic situation” by December.
While COVID is “not going to be eradicated, and it’s not going to be eliminated,” Fauci said, the disease will become “something we can live with and doesn’t disrupt us.”
The World Health Organization is also predicting that the COVID pandemic may be coming to a close. The WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “The end is in sight” for the pandemic during a Wednesday press briefing. Daily COVID deaths worldwide are nearing record lows, according to the WHO.
Yet Tedros cautioned against complacency, saying that while the world “can see the finish line,” governments still needed to vaccinate at-risk individuals and monitor new variants. “Now is the worst time to stop running,” Tedros said.
In Sunday’s interview, the president discussed the “profound” impact of COVID. “Think of how [COVID] has changed everything. You know, people’s attitudes about themselves, their families, about the state of the nation, about the state of their communities,” he said.
In mid-August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scaled back their recommendations for those exposed to the coronavirus through a close contact, instead suggesting daily testing and mask wearing rather than isolation.
Major U.S. companies are also rolling back their COVID restrictions, with major Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs removing their last remaining COVID restrictions on in-person work.
As of Friday, the U.S. has a seven-day daily average of 60,800 COVID cases and 390 deaths as the country emerges from a summer wave driven by the BA.5 variant. The CDC reports that 67.7% of the U.S. has had two doses of a COVID vaccine, and about 32.9% have had one booster shot.
The U.S. recently approved bivalent vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which target both the original strain of the coronavirus as well as the new BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
The White House now expects COVID vaccines to taken annually, similar to flu shots. Yet health experts worry that the U.S. is making a mistake in comparing COVID to the flu, noting that annual boosters will not provide enough protection to keep up with the rapidly mutating coronavirus.