President Joe Biden’s Sept. 18 statement that the COVID-19 pandemic is “over” prompted questions about why his administration hasn’t ended the federal public health emergency and how the government or employers can continue to mandate Emergency Use Authorized vaccines.
Biden made the comment from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which is being held for the first time since 2019.
In his remarks, Biden, using the auto show as a point of reference, stated:
“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lotta work on it … but the pandemic is over.
“If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it.”
Two weeks ago, 850 more teachers were fired in New York because they weren’t 💉, yet Biden goes on @60Minutes yesterday and announces the pandemic is over and nobody is masking anymore.— Castaway_RN (@Tinfoil_Travis) September 19, 2022
More evidence that covid policies have largely been political theatre. Midterms are coming. pic.twitter.com/S1MEmJElCM
In the same interview, Biden also said the “impact on the psyche of the American people as a consequence of the pandemic is profound.”
Following Biden’s “the pandemic is over” declaration on Sunday, COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers on Monday lost more than a combined $9 billion market value in a stock sell-off. The companies’ shares dropped as much as 9%.
No End in Sight to COVID ‘Public Health Emergency’
Following Biden’s declaration, Sarah Lovenheim, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said the federal public health emergency “remains in effect” and that a 60-day notice would be provided by the agency before it is rescinded.
A 60-day period means that the earliest possible date when the emergency declaration would be lifted is in late November — well past the current Oct. 15 expiration date.
HHS first declared the public health emergency on Jan. 31, 2020, and renewed it 10 times since, most recently on July 15.
Remarking on the “public health emergency” remaining in effect even after Biden declared the pandemic “over,” Mary Holland, president and general counsel of Children’s Health Defense, told The Defender:
“It is an outrage that Biden has declared the pandemic over and yet federal and state emergencies and COVID-19 vaccine mandates remain.
“If it’s over, it’s over! No emergencies, no lockdowns, no mandates, no testing, no masks. Anything else is not only incoherent, it’s the essence of tyranny — pointless, cruel restrictions that destroy lives.”
Holland said if HHS follows Biden’s “pandemic is over” guidance and ends the federal public health emergency at the next opportunity on Oct. 15, the move will raise a host of liability and legal questions around COVID-19 vaccines and other Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) products, including tests and masks.
“The government seems to imagine it can call the pandemic over, reverse CDC guidance, yet continue to cling to emergency powers and mandate extraordinarily dangerous shots that don’t stop infection or transmission of disease,” Holland said.
“I do not believe the people or the courts will allow this absurd and dangerous situation to continue much longer.”
Some Republican lawmakers also questioned why the public health emergency will be renewed if the pandemic is “over,” The Washington Post reported.
In turn, some White House staffers — in particular, senior health officials — reportedly were caught “off guard” and “surprised” by Biden’s remarks.
Biden’s declaration “has thrown a wrench into the White House’s efforts to secure additional funding to fight the virus and persuade Americans to get a new booster shot,” according to the Post.
In an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy contradicted Biden, stating that the pandemic is not over because “we’re losing about 400 people a day on average to this virus,” adding his view that “we need to get that number lower. We have people who are struggling with long COVID.”
As for the timing of Biden’s statement, an article in STAT noted, “There are no accepted metrics or defined international rules” for when a pandemic has “ended.”
“It’s over when people decide that it’s over,” John Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” a book chronicling the history of the 1918 Spanish flu, told STAT. “And most people seem to have decided it’s over.”
Administration Dials Back Covid-Related Restrictions as Midterm Elections Loom
The Biden administration has turned the focus of its messaging to the “importance of getting vaccinated and receiving booster shots,” and to the “wide availability of antiviral pills and other forms of treatment for those who contract the virus,” The Hill reported.
As The Defender reported earlier this month, Biden purchased 170 million doses of updated COVID-19 booster shots, which will be made available to the public as part of an autumn vaccination campaign.
The Biden administration plans to shift distribution of COVID-19 therapeutics to the private sector by January 2023 — despite preparing to extend its COVID-19 public health emergency.https://t.co/oSDiazOPo1— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) September 6, 2022
According to CNN, Biden’s remarks are aligned with the results of a recent Axios/Ipsos poll indicating 46% of Americans — the highest level since the start of the pandemic — say they have resumed their normal activities.
In February, The Defender reported that an internal memo from an influential polling firm advised the Biden administration — in the face of flagging poll numbers and feelings of fatigue on the part of the public towards COVID-19 countermeasures and mandates — to present itself as having “defeated” COVID-19.
Biden’s most recent remarks — delivered as midterm elections are looming — are the latest, and most explicit, in a recent pattern of statements and announcements from his administration that have begun to walk back the prevailing narrative of the past two-plus years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Aug. 11 the reversal of its COVID-19 guidance, rescinding its previous distinctions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
This was followed by the CDC’s Aug. 17 announcement that the agency will undergo an “overhaul” as a result of its “botched” response to COVID-19.
On Aug. 30, the Biden administration announced plans to shift distribution of COVID-19 therapeutics to the private sector by January 2023.
On Aug. 31, the administration updated its guidance for federal contractors in relation to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Under the new guidance, the federal government will not take any action to implement or enforce Executive Order 14042, which mandated the COVID-19 vaccines for federal contractors.
In a letter sent to Biden following his declaration that the pandemic was over, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the leading Republican on the Senate’s health panel, asked the president when vaccination requirements for federal workers and contractors would be fully lifted and more federal employees allowed to return to in-office employment.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in April said the U.S. was moving “out of the pandemic phase,” balked at Biden’s statement. In remarks made Monday, Fauci said, “We are not where we need to be if we’re going to be able to … ‘live with the virus.’”
Gregg Golsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, said he was “dismayed” by Biden’s declaration, arguing, “We are terribly under-boosted and under-vaccinated in this country.”
Notably, the World Health Organization (WHO) still classifies COVID-19 as a pandemic. However, the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last week said the “end is in sight” for the pandemic.
Growing Number of Lawsuits Challenge Vaccine Mandates
Biden’s statement comes in light of the elimination, or significant loosening, of COVID-19-related mandates in the armed forces and throughout the U.S.
“The paradoxical juxtaposition that has the president declaring the pandemic is over while New York City’s Department of Education fires 850 unvaccinated teachers and aids shows once again that the governmental purpose is coercion and not public health,” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman of Children’s Health Defense, told The Defender.
The news was followed by an administrative order by the U.S. Marine Corps stating that “a Marine’s vaccination status cannot be used against them in fitness reports or other performance evaluations,” according to the New York Post.
The latest Marine Corps followed an order last month by a federal court in Florida temporarily blocking the Marines from taking disciplinary action against service members seeking a religious exemption.
Separately, a group of 47 Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), last week submitted a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin calling on the U.S. Department of Defense to fully withdraw its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military members.
Among other things, the letter states that 8% of the U.S. Army’s 1 million soldiers face expulsion and the Army is, accordingly, facing difficulties achieving its recruitment targets
In June, The Defender reported that internal U.S. Army documents indicated the Army was not meeting its recruitment goals and that a larger number of service members were unvaccinated or not “fully” vaccinated, compared to the official data presented to the public.
Beyond the military, various state and local government jurisdictions have also quietly been removing or loosening COVID-19-related restrictions.
In California, a new policy that came into effect Sept. 17 no longer requires school employees to show proof of vaccination or to be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sept. 7 announced that masks are no longer mandated to be worn on public transportation and in correctional facilities, detention centers and homeless shelters.
On Sept. 14, a New York court ruled the New York Police Department could not fire an unvaccinated police officer who sued New York City over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
However, the New York City Department of Education continues to enforce its Sept. 5 vaccination deadline for teachers, with 850 teachers fired following this deadline. The firings come amidst a nationwide teacher shortage.
And of interest to Americans and others planning on traveling to Canada, the Canadian government is reportedly considering ending its COVID-19 vaccine mandate and random COVID-19 testing at its borders.
This shift in U.S. policy comes amidst a growing number of legal actions challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
According to the National Law Review, the number of lawsuits challenging mandates has surpassed 1,000, with August bringing “the highest number of new complaints challenging employer COVID-19 vaccination requirements since the wave of vaccine mandate litigation began.”
A “changing attitude toward the vaccines and COVID-19” may be, at least in part, responsible for the “sharp uptick” in lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates over the past summer, the National Law Review said.