Pressed about US testing shortages amid the omicron surge, Biden conceded in an interview that “nothing’s been good enough”.
In an interview with ABC’s David Muir on Wednesday, the president signaled that the country was in a better shape now than last Christmas but said he wished he had ordered free at-home tests earlier than this week. A surging demand for tests, driven by the new variant and the winter holidays, has led to long lines and shortages around the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals in many parts of the US are once again strained or struggling as Covid patients crowd emergency rooms and intensive care units.
“We’re nearly two years into the pandemic and a year into your presidency. Empty shelves and no test kits in some places, three days before Christmas … is that good enough?” asked Muir.
“No, nothing’s been good enough,” said Biden. “I wish I had thought about ordering” the 500m at-home tests two months ago, the president later added.
The interview comes on the heels of Biden’s announcement of a plan to send half a billion at-home coronavirus test kits to Americans. The president has also instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess and expand hospital bed capacity in anticipation of a winter surge.
However, the president reiterated that he would not be requiring travelers to be vaccinated before getting on flights to the US, nor was he considering vaccine requirements for domestic air travelers. As he did at the White House on Tuesday, the president emphasized that 200 million residents have already been vaccinated.
Early studies suggest that vaccinated people will need a booster shot to avoid contracting the Omicron variant.
The White House also announced on Wednesday that it was purchasing more treatments, seeking to double the supply of sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment. The administration is also procuring half a million doses of AstraZeneca’s newly authorized drug to prevent Covid in people with weakened immune systems. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday also authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pills for Covid.
“Last Christmas, we were in a situation where we had significantly fewer vaccinated — people vaccinated, emergency rooms were filled. You had serious backups in hospitals that were causing great difficulties,” Biden said in the interview.
The president himself was exposed to the virus; the White House announced Monday that a staffer who traveled aboard Air Force One with the president had tested positive. However, Biden tested negative for the virus on Wednesday. Kamala Harris was also exposed. The White House said on Wednesday that a staffer who was in close contact with her this week tested positive. The vice-president has tested negative so far.
Biden told ABC that if he is “in good health” he would run for president again, especially in a rematch against Donald Trump. “Why would I not run against Donald Trump for the nominee?” the president said. “That’ll increase the prospect of running.”