As new fearmongering emerged from reports of “mutant” coronavirus strains, President Joe Biden found him in a position similar to his predecessor, trying to downplay the health crisis and emphasize the limitations of his ability to combat the persistent vaccine hesitance responsible for the summer backslide.
But despite having a compliant media to do his bidding, unlike former President Donald Trump, Biden found little recourse but to resort to divisive rhetoric and finger-pointing as he deflected from another in a long litany of policy failures for his still-young administration.
Cases of COVID-19 have tripled over the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are reportedly rising among unvaccinated people.
While the rates are still sharply down from their January highs, officials conveyed alarm by the reversing trendlines and what they consider needless illness and death. And cases are expected to continue to rise in coming weeks.
However, unlike the national crisis that many on the Left attempted to dump onto the shoulders of the Republican leader, officials now maintain that the outbreak is a more localized crisis in communities where not enough people have rolled up their sleeves.
“Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said Friday, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is little appetite in the White House for a return to broad mandates for masks or other measures that would come with inherent political risks, as well as further devastating the US economy.
Reflecting that mindset, Walensky said Friday that in low-vaccination areas with rising cases, “local policymakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for their community.”
Some communities are acting. Los Angeles County on Thursday reinstituted its requirement that masks be worn in most indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, and health officials in Las Vegas recommended on Friday that workers and patrons in the tourism hotspot wear face coverings while inside.
The Biden administration now claims the most effective way to attack the virus is not trying to slow the spread with mass masking and such but to continue to press the importance of vaccinations.
It’s no easy fix. Many Americans remain resistant or unmotivated to get shots, despite months of increasingly aggressive efforts by federal and state officials and the private sector to spread pro-vaccine propaganda.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy added that while government can play an important role, “this has got to be an ‘all of the above’ strategy with everybody in,” including schools, employers, technology companies and individuals.
In recent days, the administration has turned its focus to younger Americans. It enlisted pop star Olivia Rodrigo for a day-long White House visit Wednesday with Biden and coronavirus czar Anthony Fauci that was heavily documented for social media.
Younger people are at lowest risk of adverse outcomes from the virus and have proven to be among the least likely to get vaccinated.
But another huge group has proven to be an even more vexing challenge: Republicans.
The White House has long acknowledged that, given the politicization of the virus stemming from left-wing alarmism, draconian lockdowns and other exploitations of the pandemic for political gain, it would have little success convincing the GOP to get on board.
Instead, administration officials have amped up criticism in recent days of public officials and social media companies for the failure to adequately censor vaccine skepticism among the GOP.
“They’re killing people,” Biden said Friday of social media companies, speaking a day after Murthy, the surgeon general, warned that anti-vaccine posts on platforms like Facebook posed a public health risk to the nation.
The Biden administration appeared to be test-messaging even more divisive rhetoric in its bid to scapegoat the Chinese-borne virus and to pin its spread solely on political rivals.
Some worry that leftist leaders could target those who refuse the experimental shot for everything from persecution and ostracizing in schools to special detention camps similar to the World War II-era Japanese internment camps imposed on American citizens by Democrat president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The pandemic is now “one that predominantly threatens unvaccinated people,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday.
But Zients claimed that there is a sign that the increased cases are driving more people in those communities to seek vaccination, reporting that “states with the highest case rates are seeing their vaccination rates go up” faster than the national average.