Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
President Joe Biden spent part of the summer isolating at the White House after developing COVID-19, testing positive on July 21 and then again later that month when his viral levels rebounded after taking Paxlovid.
That recent personal experience with this pathogen adds to the confusion and frustration generated by Biden's ill-advised remarks in a "60 Minutes" interview broadcast Sunday night. Less than two months after he became ill, Biden told a reporter, "The pandemic is over."
Biden then referenced the car enthusiasts at the Michigan auto show where the interview took place: "If you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape."
It was a remarkably poorly timed presidential pronouncement that Biden urgently needs to recalibrate to reflect COVID's ongoing threat. Two key messages that should be issued soon from the president's bully pulpit:
- Americans must remain vigilant against a viral enemy still circulating and evolving.
- Autumn's approach is a critical time to ensure that you're checking off commonsense steps — such as getting COVID boosters and having at-home tests on hand — to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
The nation is heading into its third fall since the COVID was declared a global contagion, and the data is clear about what happens when colder weather sends people back indoors.
Indoor conditions facilitate viral spread, especially in crowds. In 2020 and 2021, cases and deaths spiked in the United States during winter months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Preparing for a potential fall surge isn't living in fear, as some COVID minimizers might argue. Nor are those advocating for sensible preparations calling for 2020-style lockdowns.
Instead, taking individual responsibility reflects a sobering reality: The CDC reports that the nation's seven-day average of new COVID cases is about 55,000. Roughly 400 people a day still die on average in the U.S. As Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm noted recently in a New York Times story, COVID remains a leading cause of death in this country.
What's different now from early 2020 is the availability of vaccines, treatments such as Paxlovid, and rapid at-home COVID tests. This tool kit can prevent severe illness and check viral spread, but the tools don't work if people don't use them.
An updated vaccine targeted against COVID variants is now available. Biden wasted a prime opportunity — the "60 Minutes" interview — to strongly advocate that Americans get this new shot.
He also may have undermined his efforts to persuade Congress to provide much-needed funding for the nation's ongoing COVID response, which is necessary to ensure testing access and develop next-generation treatments and vaccines.
Fortunately, the state of Minnesota continues to provide smart solutions to help consumers combat COVID. It recently authorized another round of no-cost, at-home tests, which can be ordered here: tinyurl.com/OrderMNtests. Note: There are household limits.
The updated "bivalent" COVID vaccine is also available at no cost at state-run community vaccination sites in Duluth, Moorhead, Rochester, St. Paul-Midway and the Mall of America. On Tuesday, health officials announced these sites are now taking walk-in appointments. For more information, go to tinyurl.com/FindMNshot.
The updated shot is available as well at many clinics and pharmacies.
Everyone wants the pandemic to be "over." Biden should make clear that we all have a role in making that happen and that there's important work yet to be done.