Biden made the comments during an interview at the Detroit auto show on Wednesday, citing the crowds at the event. The annual auto show had not taken place since 2019.
“If you notice, no one is wearing masks,” Biden told CBS news reporter Scott Pelley. “Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. And that’s why I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of that.”
Though Biden’s comments were caught off guard, they could complicate his administration’s previously unsuccessful efforts to secure additional funding from Congress for more coronavirus vaccines and treatments and other steps to combat the virus. Republicans raised questions Sunday night about why the administration would renew its ongoing public health emergency when the pandemic is over. That emergency declaration, set to expire next month, has allowed federal officials to pursue flexible solutions amid the crisis, including quickly approving new Covid treatments and getting many Americans covered by Medicaid, the safety-net health program. The Urban Institute, a think tank that conducts economic and social policy research, has estimated that up to 15.8 million Americans could lose their Medicaid coverage after the government ends its declaration of a state of emergency.
Biden’s comment that the pandemic was over came as a surprise to administration officials, according to two senior health officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night.
The government has been claiming for months that the virus is on the wane, citing the increasing availability of vaccines, tests and treatments to combat it, and increasing popular immunity. Biden’s comments came at a time when daily new infections have fallen to just over 57,000 — the lowest since late April — though that’s likely a dramatic undercount given most people are testing themselves at home and not spreading their infections to local and government agencies report health officials.
Still, the disease continues to take its toll: More than 30,000 people are hospitalized and more than 400 die each day, according to seven-day moving averages compiled by the Washington Post.
“We have a virus out there that’s still circulating and it’s killing hundreds of Americans every day,” Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said at a Sept. 6 news conference, warning that the emergence of new variants could bring additional could pose risks. “I think all of us as Americans need to pull together to try to keep Americans safe… and do whatever we can to get our healthcare system through what can be a difficult fall and winter.”
The head of the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that the pandemic is not over and that important work to combat it worldwide is still pending.
“We are not there yet, but the end is in sight,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We can see the finish line. but now is the worst time to stop running.”
We’ve never been in a better place to end this #COVID-19 Pandemic, but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals take action and seize this opportunity. Otherwise we risk more variants, more deaths, disruptions and uncertainties. Let’s finish the job! pic.twitter.com/wzNaQ5kF3P
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) September 15, 2022
In the 60 Minutes interview, Biden said the pandemic continues to take a deep psychological toll.
“I think you’ll agree that the impact of the pandemic on the psyche of the American people is profound,” the president said. “Think of how it all changed … people’s attitudes toward themselves, their families, the state of the nation, the state of their communities.”