In an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, President Joe Biden declared that "the pandemic is over."
“We still have a problem with COVID,” the president added. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
And indeed, president’s comment seems to at least somewhat reflect public sentiment, according to a recent survey from Ipsos and Axios: While only 33% of Americans agreed with the statement that the pandemic is over, 46% said that they have returned to their pre-pandemic lives, the highest figure recorded at any point during the pandemic.
“Most Americans have turned the page on the COVID pandemic, even as most acknowledge the virus is likely to be with us for the long term,” Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs, told Axios.
Just last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that "the end is in sight" for the COVID-19 pandemic. And deaths from COVID-19 are near an all-time low, though nearly 400 people are dying per day from the coronavirus, according to data from the CDC.
But the president’s declaration may have complicated his administration’s efforts to obtain more than $22 billion in funding for the federal response to the pandemic, with some Republicans using Biden’s words to justify continuing to oppose the request.
“When the president announced the pandemic was over, I think he made it that much harder to convince people that they need additional funding,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., in an interview with Punchbowl News on Monday.
"If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate Republican leadership, told CNN on Monday.
“The president saying the pandemic is over is ... just kind of mind-boggling,” said Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said, per ABC News. “He wants tens of billions for COVID and he says the pandemic is over?”
Cassidy, when asked if the president’s comments indicated there was no need for additional COVID funding, replied, per the outlet: “Sounds like it to me.”
The White House asked for $22.4 billion to accelerate research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics to keep up with the ever-evolving virus and to support the global response. The administration made a similar request earlier this year, warning that if Congress failed to approve the funding, it would hurt the federal government’s efforts to support vaccine development, threaten free vaccines, treatments and tests for Americans, and hinder global vaccination efforts.
But Congress, driven by Republican opposition, failed to approve the funding.
Democrats, however, said that Biden’s comments highlight the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and maintained that the funding is still important to keep the virus at bay.
"I think what the president meant … (is) the massive sort of shutdowns and masks and all of that, we're moving beyond that,” Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said on CNN on Tuesday. “But why we need additional funds is to keep the door shut. It's for therapeutics and vaccines. The reason we've gotten where we are is vaccination.”
"What he's saying reflects reality. People are not acting like we are in the same kind of crisis we were two years ago," Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said on Monday. "It would not be consistent with reality if President Biden was out there suggesting what we're living through today is the same thing as what we're living through two years ago.”
"We need some more resources to be sure that it's over,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday.
Other Democrats beat back the assertion that COVID is over.
"The variants are still out there,” Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s majority whip, told ABC News. “We are all hoping that it's over [but] nobody is going to predict with certainty that it is. I'm not.”
“The president has asked in the past not just for pandemic funds for COVID-19 but to prepare for what might be next,” Durbin added. “And I think that's always obvious and fair to do that.”
“COVID is not over,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the 2016 nominee for vice president, said, adding: “He said that COVID isn't over, the pandemic is over. But the way I look at it, COVID isn't over.”
In an interview on Monday, one day after Biden's comments, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said that "we are not where we need to be if we are going to quote ‘live with the virus.'"
"We still must be aware of how unusual this virus is and continues to be in its ability to evolve into new variants which defy the standard public health mechanisms of addressing an outbreak," he said, blaming the virus' longevity on "lack of a uniform acceptance of the interventions that are available to us in this country."
"Even now, more than two years, close to three years into the outbreak, we have only 67% of our population vaccinated, and only one half of those have received a single boost," Fauci said, warning that while the pandemic is "heading in the right direction," there may be a chance a new variant emerges going into fall and winter.
Republicans also used Biden’s comments to question other administration initiatives, including vaccine and mask mandates and even his plan to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans.
"Biden admitted last night that the COVID pandemic is over,” Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a frequent critic of the president, wrote on Twitter Monday. “In other words, there is no ‘ongoing emergency’ to justify his proposal for student loan handouts.”
“Despite Americans having largely returned to normal life, which you acknowledged when you noted that attendees at the Detroit Auto Show were not wearing masks, your administration continues to request un-offset emergency funding from Congress, enforce vaccine mandates, and maintain federal emergency declarations that cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday.
“Without a clear plan to wind down pandemic-era policies, the deficit will continue to balloon and the effectiveness of public health measures will wane as the American people continue to be confused by mixed messages and distrust of federal officials,” Burr, the top Republican on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, continued.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday said that Biden made clear that COVID-19 is still a problem and the U.S. still needs to take action to fight against the virus.
"We have to continue to make sure that we are fighting this once-in-a-generation pandemic," she said. "What he believes is we can acknowledge that the massive amount of progress that we have made," compared to the previous administration, which she accused of mismanaging the federal response to the pandemic.
"If you look at today, 220 million people are fully vaccinated, and now we are in a place where it is a lot more manageable, where we know what works," Jean-Pierre said. "There are tests, there are treatments, there are vaccines ... so we know what works, we know the tools that are out there to fight COVID."
The White House spokesperson charged that Congress has been aware for more than six months that health experts have stressed the need for more funding to develop and acquire advanced treatments and vaccines.
"We have to be prepared for the next generation of vaccines and treatments," she said. "We have to be prepared for the next potential pandemic, ensuring that we're leading the way when it comes to research, when it comes to development, when it comes to innovating. and keeping testing readily accessible."
"Ultimately, if we lose these things, we have to ask Republicans why didn't they act," Jean-Pierre concluded. "We believe this COVID funding is incredibly important for how we move into the future of fighting pandemics."