The coronavirus is finally losing its grip on the American public, the news media, and the Biden administration.
Packed airports over the summer, after the White House formally lifted the COVID-19 public health emergency in May, signaled the end of the pandemic. NBC News reported the number of excess deaths in the United States had plummeted to pre-pandemic levels, and free COVID tests are harder to come by, on July 17.
The New York Times (NYT) described the development as “A Positive Covid Milestone.”
“After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness,” the NYT reported.
The Washington Post reported the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center cared for fewer than 20 patients with coronavirus across its entire system in mid-June, compared with 1,200 at the height of the omicron wave in early 2022, on June 25.
No More U.S. Funding
The Biden administration appears to be taking a new tack with respect to COVID-19, with get-tough initiatives on censorship and China.
In addition to a “scientific integrity” panel announced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (see related article, opposite page), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would stop funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
The Wuhan lab has been suspected as the source of the coronavirus since the pandemic reached the United States in 2020. HHS says the step is needed because Chinese authorities refused to turn over documents relating to lab safety and security.
“This action will ensure that [WIV] does not receive another dollar of federal funding,” a spokesman for HHS told Bloomberg News.
Departure of Lightning Rods
No one embodied the federal government’s response to COVID-19 more than Anthony Fauci, M.D., the now-retired director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci, who also served as President Biden’s chief medical adviser in 2021 and 2022, was criticized for his contradictory statements on masks and other aspects of the federal response to the pandemic, and his less-than-candid statements on his agency’s funding of the WIV, where gain-of-function research was taking place.
Rochelle Walensky, M.D., has stepped down as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Walensky, who acknowledged the CDC “did not reliably meet expectations” during the pandemic, will be replaced by Mandy Cohen, M.D., former head of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Also departing the scene is Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator from April 2022 to June 15, 2023. A staunch advocate of the Biden administration’s vaccine campaign, Jha recommended people get the latest booster to protect them against the virus’s mutating variants.
New White House Pandemic Office
While some familiar faces associated with COVID-19 will be gone, a newly created office in the White House could provide a certain degree of policy continuity in future pandemics.
The Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy (OPPR), established by law in 2022, will be headed by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Friedrichs. Friedrichs previously served as joint staff surgeon at the Pentagon, where he oversaw all health services, including the military’s COVID-19 response.
“During the height of the pandemic, the Biden-Harris Administration made historic progress in COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments that were made widely available,” the White House said in a July 21 statement. “OPPR will continue to leverage these investments as it drives future progress in combatting COVID-19 and other public health threats.”
‘Lockdown Relapse’ Possible
Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, a free-market advocacy group, sees nothing encouraging in the steps taken by the Biden White House.
“Mandy Cohen does not disagree with Rochelle Walensky on anything as far as I can tell and the new Biden administration Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy represents an institutionalization of failure,” said Kerpen. “Some of the personnel have changed but there has been no official acknowledgment that lockdowns were a catastrophic error, and the refusal of the public health establishment to admit error puts America at risk of lockdown relapse every respiratory season.”
‘Not a Substitute for Accountability’
The administration’s publication of a “guidance” on scientific integrity is more telling than the White House realizes, says Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, an advocacy group.
“This situation evokes thoughts of those ubiquitous warning signs, such as ‘Do not attempt to open the train’s doors, even if the train is not on a bridge.’ It makes me wonder what happened to necessitate such a strange warning,” Stier said. “Similarly, here, the utterly toothless ‘Scientific Integrity’ guidance is just as obvious as the train warning, but it raises real questions about what happened to prompt such a guidance,” said Stier. “Unfortunately, the Biden administration refuses to acknowledge that many of its own did the equivalent of opening the door of a moving train. These guidelines are not a substitute for accountability.”
Bonner Russell Cohen, Ph.D. (email@example.com) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.