When it comes to tackling COVID-19, our best option shouldn’t be better late than never.
But in his speech Thursday – in which he set tighter vaccine mandates for federal workers and pressured teachers to follow suit – President Joe Biden ultimately provided some of the strength that was missing from the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Early in his speech, Biden said that “many of us are frustrated by the nearly 80 million Americans who remain unvaccinated.”
True. I am one of those frustrated Americans.
He also criticized local leaders for playing “pandemic politics”. And while I agree with his critics, the weight of my frustration doesn’t lie solely with local politicians. Much of it goes straight to Biden.
The president’s plan has been called a daring one. Some parts are. But more than anything, I would call this for a long time. Should we congratulate a president who finally pushes “bold” actions so late in the game?
As the rate of COVID-19 in the United States quickly exceeds 150,000 cases per day, Biden’s latest show of force is almost as bad as President Donald Trump’s failure to do what so many other leaders have done once the world has known the depths of the initial outbreak – taking the virus seriously, pushing as hard on a mask warrant as her powers would allow, and telling the public to stay home.
Biden had the opportunity to do something so forceful thanks to his Department of Labor emergency order – pushing employers of 100 or more workers to force the vaccine, period, instead of allowing regular testing of d ‘be an option.
Infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci, who is Biden’s chief medical adviser, broke with the president when it came to giving employers what Fauci has criticized as being “off track” for make the vaccine compulsory.
Fauci, on CNN, said Biden was moderate in order to give those who did not want to take the vaccine the opportunity to exercise this right. If they test positive for COVID-19, they could stay home instead of potentially infecting their coworkers.
But why risk it? Long before people have symptoms, they can carry the virus. And a positive test may force them to avoid work, but they could still travel to other places in their community, potentially spreading the disease.
During this interview, CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta presented some frightening statistics: Hospitalizations are more than double the rate they were at this time last year. Mortality rates are also higher.
Several COVID-19 speeches in his presidency and Biden still disappointingly misses the mark.
Mandate delay puts lives at risk
As a black journalist, I went to great lengths to reach members of my community and spread the message of the importance of vaccines. I hosted a live roundtable with black doctors. One described the increase in hospitalizations in her Detroit area as rivaling the initial outbreak.
Another doctor has spoken strongly on vaccination mandates: While there are steps that can be taken to encourage people to get vaccinated, he said, the only thing that will permanently eliminate this virus are strong and unequivocal national mandates.
In March, Biden proudly touted the emergency Food and Drug Administration approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He also set himself several goals for his first 100 days in office: administered 100 million vaccines and returning the majority of American children in grades eight and under to school in person. He passed the first goal. But many have questioned the effectiveness of the second goal.
In-person education is now resuming and younger students are being hit hard by the Delta. An earlier and more aggressive push for vaccinations among school teachers and a strong mandate for federal authorities (which he just did) could have gone a long way in making Goal 2 a success.
He also avoided, until much later, firmly pushing hospital staff to obtain warrants – another costly mistake.
At the time he gave that March speech, I was a patient at a hospital in Washington, DC During my extended stay, most of the healthcare professionals I had contact with had been vaccinated, but at least one nurse who cared for me hadn’t. She also treated patients with COVID-19 and confessed to me that she had not been tested for several months. Patients, she tried to reassure me, do not contract coronavirus infections in hospitals – a claim that defies logic and, if true, would make COVID-19 (as told to me later a doctor) unlike virtually every other infectious disease in history.
These weeks have been, for many reasons, some of the scariest times of my life. The fact that I had no protection from a nurse who didn’t seem to understand how diseases spread was only one reason.
As a patient, I had to take a COVID-19 test when I was admitted to the hospital. Each time I was transferred to a different department, I was tested again. The fact that frequent testing and vaccination was not required for nurses left patients like me and the surrounding communities unnecessarily vulnerable.
More powerful virus, less resources
Around May, the first cases of the delta variant had already been detected in the United States, and the evidence that it was a more dangerous version of the virus was clear.
It wasn’t until July that Biden finally instituted more “vaccination incentives” for federal employees, but still no warrant. By that time, Delta had already ravaged nearly 100 nations.
We are now facing a much stronger virus. And Hurricane Ida left us with fewer resources to fight it. Many of the Department of Defense and Federal Emergency Management Agency resources that the president has promised hospitals across the country have been rightfully stranded in Louisiana, where millions of Americans are still without power in public buildings. flooded communities.
The delta variant doesn’t care about age. One of those doctors who served on the panel that I moderated, Dr. Michael LeNoir, who practices in Oakland, Calif., Wrote about treating children for COVID-19 who are just nine weeks old.
Not only has it become an unvaccinated virus (as it is now frequently labeled), but it has become a youth virus – about 25% of people who get sick are children. For the little ones who cannot get vaccinated, the president’s delay in going after those who can has forced the little ones (and the most vulnerable) among us to pay a very unfair price.
LeNoir also agrees that, on one level, Biden’s actions are a bit too late. While he concedes that Biden’s hands have been tied, he also acknowledges that it will likely take years for things to get back to normal.
Why have we, as a nation, always waited for this crisis to reach incredibly damaging levels to take the most aggressive (and obvious) action?
Biden was surely able to learn from his predecessor’s stumbles. Trump has been slow to act for different reasons – he rejected the science first, then did not push the masks. Even after being hospitalized for COVID-19, his behavior did not change significantly. These choices cost lives.
I never thought I would be close to agreeing with shock jock Howard Stern. On his show, he spoke out against the anti-vaxxers, saying “f — their freedom. I want my freedom to live.” Strong words. Maybe a little too loud. But I understand the feeling. There comes a time when the well-being of the nation goes beyond anyone’s right to get sick.
We’ve been here before, done better
I have a brother who lives in Colorado, and he is one of the vaccine resistant. I had endless and exhausting conversations with him, during which I tried many tactics that I thought might change his mind – vaccine safety facts, guilt (how would mom and dad feel? if something happened to you?), long to understand the consequences of the disease.
The only thing that would make him change his mind, he said, is if it was against the law for him not to get the vaccine. And even then, the consequences of violating this law should be drastic.
The nation has already faced resistance to vaccines, and the efforts to save the country were more aggressive and the mobilization global.
In the 1970s, the National Childhood Immunization Initiative, a federal program, called for volunteers at the state level to highlight and promote the importance of immunization. The program also tracked individual immunization records and greatly facilitated access for children who had not participated.
Eventually all 50 states joined in demanding the vaccines that are now common for public school enrollment.
In this pandemic, California has been among the most progressive states, requiring the vaccine for hospital staff. The Los Angeles school system on Thursday added the COVID-19 vaccine to its requirements for children 12 and older.
New York City is also making progress, demanding the vaccine for school staff.
But whether or not people across the country can live, function and navigate this pandemic safely shouldn’t depend on a few heads of state doing the right thing. If you live in a state where government officials are proactive, you’re in luck. If you don’t, are you alone?
If Biden’s efforts work, it will take more than a month to see the benefits.
Meanwhile, so many questions are jostling in my head: what about the lambda variant? As we fall behind in treating delta, have we opened the door for other strains to become virulent? Without more aggressive measures on mandates, will we one day achieve collective immunity?
It was good to hear Biden acknowledge the frustrations of millions of Americans.
Yes, Mr President, we are frustrated.
Time will tell if you’ve done enough to suppress this.
Eileen Rivers is the Editor-in-Chief of USA TODAY’s Editorial Page Projects and a member of its Editorial Board.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is Biden Frustrated? I’m frustrated. There is still a lack of benchmarks on COVID.