“Rules Must Be Clear”: Democrats Call for Covid Strategy Reset as Cases Rise

Register hospitalizations. All-Russian struggle for tests. Entire school districts are being forced to close.

As a brutal spike in Omicron infections hits a jaded country, a growing number of Democrats are calling on the Biden White House to rethink its plan to tackle Covid to prevent what they fear could escalate into a crisis of public health confidence as the number cases increases dramatically in practice. every state.

Democrats admit that the latest Covid-19 variant is the most troublesome to date, and much remains to be seen about its severity and treatment resistance. But many warn that some messages from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are causing more confusion and the government needs to evolve in its response to keep up with the rapidly changing virus.

Even some Democratic leaders say the Biden administration needs to do more to clarify its Covid leadership after weeks of the whip.

“We have to make it clear that this is not easy. We understand it’s not easy, but we have to follow the rules, ”House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a short interview. “But the rules must be clear and the CDC must be clearer than before.”

Additional guidance from the White House can be obtained during Biden’s speech on Thursday, where he will talk about the state of the pandemic. And President Joe Biden could use that speech to respond to criticism of at least one of the CDC’s recent decisions – his reluctance to issue a nationwide recommendation to use higher quality masks such as the N-95 or KN-95.

Resurgent party fears of a pandemic were at the forefront on Tuesday, when senior White House health officials first appeared on Capitol Hill since the Omicron variant became the dominant strain in the US last month. At the hearing, HELP Senate Chair Patti Murray, Washington, called the recent CDC leadership changes “confusing and disappointing” and criticized the administration for continued supply shortages and other headaches plaguing her home state and country.

“I am disappointed that we are still lagging behind on issues such as testing and school support that are important to families,” she said. “This does not mean that we have not made progress – it is just clear that we have not done enough.”

Anthony Fauci, Biden’s most prominent health advisor, called it "very tricky virus" at the same Senate hearing on Tuesday, adding: “We are doing our best."

Democrats also speak out outside the hearings. More than 50 Democrats in the House of Representatives and Senate signed a letter Biden this week urged his administration to increase the availability of rapid tests and remove barriers to testing, one of Omicron’s biggest concerns. Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Josh Gotteimer (DN.J.), sent their letters

Democrats acknowledge that beyond the obvious challenges of the global supply chain in a pandemic, there are still big questions about how and when to test an entirely new option.

“People want simplicity,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.) said, suggesting as an example that people can test positive for Omicron using one type of test but negative using another. “We will find out more. It makes the public, at least in the beginning, puzzle over trying to figure out what’s going on. “

Meanwhile, with US cases skyrocketing, the CDC responded last week by cutting in half its 10-day isolation guidelines for those testing positive for the virus. The agency now recommends that infected people be quarantined for “at least” five days. To return to society, they do not need to test negative if the person is wearing a mask and has no symptoms.

The recommendations were so different from the agency’s original advice that they quickly turned into viral internet meme… Asked about the criticism, CDC director Rochelle Walenski on Tuesday defended the agency’s decision, telling senators that the change was driven both by new data on when people are most likely to spread the virus and by the urgent need to keep hospitals, schools, pharmacies and other institutions. badly affected workforce from the collapse.

“The shortage could have, and it has been proven, dire consequences for public health,” she said. “This is the right guide for what we currently know about the transmission and the real circumstances we face today.”

Democrats admit that emerging science is difficult to get across, especially in a country weary of the past two years, but still argue that the administration can do better. At least one Democrat, Rep. Ro Hannah of California, has called for the appointment of a new CDC leader – someone who “truly enjoys the respect of the public health community and was right on many occasions.”

“People are trying to figure out exactly what to do. Should you be quarantined for five days even if you have symptoms? Or not? ”Added Rep. Ian Schakowski of Illinois, one of dozens of Democrats who signed a letter to Biden about testing availability this week.

Schakowski noted that she and other Democrats received a White House briefing this week about some of the new coronavirus treatments. And while this "very important" To sort this out in the coming weeks, she said, “I think there is catching up.”

Many Democrats have made it clear that they are not blaming Biden or his administration for the virus, which is now eluding past remedies such as vaccinations or prior immunity. But they say health officials need to be clearer on how to avoid spreading it.

“I think the administration is doing great. I think the CDC needs a little more clarity, ”Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a short interview. Pointing to her own mask like the N95, she added, “My point is that if everyone wears these masks and not cloth masks, we can get rid of it in a short period of time.”

Even former advisors to the Biden administration have spoken out publicly and calling for a new strategy, warning that continuing the current path will overcrowd the country’s already overcrowded hospitals and delay the country’s recovery.

Celine Gunder, an epidemiologist at New York University and former Biden transition advisor, is one of these critics and tells POLITICO that a new plan that isn’t just vaccines is needed. Without it, and without the additional investment in better ventilation and more affordable treatments, “we will eventually have to build more hospitals and hire more doctors and nurses.”

“This will mean higher taxes. This will mean higher insurance premiums. You can pay for it initially with prevention, or you can pay for it in the end with health care, ”Gaunder said, adding that she recently received calls from Democratic lawmakers worried about the pandemic. She refused to give the name of the person who approached her.

“When the virus mutates, you have to change your plan,” added Zeke Emanuel, another former Biden adviser. call for a new strategy… While the president’s pandemic policy was successful before the summer delta spike, Emanuel said, the administration should focus on the future and create systems that the country should be in three, six and twelve months from now, Emanuel said.

“We think there is too much reactivity, not proactivity,” he said. “If you don’t do something today that helps in six months, you’re in trouble.”

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