The only bright spot for President Joe Biden in recent polls has been his handling of the pandemic. When the CDC decided to tell everyone to mask up again his approval on COVID-19 took a hit, but it remains above water. However, a recent milestone signals his numbers may begin to sink on that issue as well.
If you don’t follow Rich Weinstein (@phillyrich1) on Twitter, you are missing out. If you ever saw the video of Jonathan Gruber saying that passing Obamacare relied on the stupidity of the American voter, you can thank Weinstein. He dug it up. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Weinstein has been keeping a timeline of significant events. So it is no surprise he noted that COVID-19 deaths under President Biden surpassed the deaths on the same date under President Trump.
Using the data from Worldometer, Weinstein created a graph that includes other notable quotes and events along the way. Counts from the CDC support the data. Biden’s daily average COVID-19 death toll exceeded President Trump’s during 2020 on August 26.
Image via CDC
The summer surge began slightly later this year than in 2020.
Image via CDC
But if you look at the United Kingdom and Israel, you get some insight into the duration of the surge. The other two nations have higher vaccination rates but similar testing regimes and adequate healthcare services. According to the UK graph, the peak does not lead to an immediate steep decline. It appears bumpier on the way down. Israel is several weeks ahead of the U.S. and may just now be reaching the peak of the Delta wave curve. How cases behave after the peak bears watching.
Image via UK GovernmentImage via Israeli Health Ministry
Early in the pandemic, we learned that deaths peak a few weeks after cases do. During the Delta wave in the other countries, it appeared that vaccination decoupled cases and deaths. Now, that is not as clear. They are gradually rising in the UK and Israel as the surge in infections persists. Positive tests in the U.S. have not peaked, so we have not seen the peak in deaths either.
As the Delta wave continues, the perception of Biden’s pandemic leadership may continue to decline. It will also become more difficult to blame it on Republican governors. Oregon recorded a record number of new cases on August 27, despite mask mandates and other restrictions. The vaccination rate in the state is 66% over the age of 18. Florida has vaccinated 68% over the age of 12.
California’s COVID-19 hospitalizations topped the 2020 summer surge in mid-August as well. Seasonal viruses will hit different areas of the U.S. in a slightly different pattern as activity levels and time spent outdoors change with the weather. Every governor will have a turn. Biden’s only saving grace is that the rolling death-o-meter is no longer on CNN. However, it is clear whatever plan he had to shut down the virus instead of the country did not go exactly as planned.
If Joe Biden were serious about shutting down the virus, he would use his authority to surge the production of monoclonal antibodies to disconnect symptomatic illness from hospitalization. Keeping people out of the hospital lowers mortality by definition. The lack of focus on keeping people from getting seriously ill has been one of the most confusing features of this pandemic.
Doing this might be embarrassing since Governor Ron DeSantis picked up on the Department of Health and Human Services’ push to provide monoclonal antibodies before Biden did. But if the goal is saving lives, Biden needs to get over it. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci finally had to acknowledge the treatment is up to 85% effective in preventing hospitalization in a recent briefing. Nice that the pressure could ultimately prod Fauci to open his mouth about the treatment after countless media appearances a month into the surge. The paternalistic attitude of mandates, carrots, and sticks certainly hasn’t worked.
Next, Biden should direct the CDC, NIH, and FDA to unshackle frontline doctors to practice medicine. I have talked to dozens who feel constrained in offering outpatient treatment to relieve symptoms out of fear of professional repercussions. It may shock most Americans to know doctors prescribe drugs off-label frequently.
There are also drugs to treat symptoms as opposed to killing the virus. How to prevent blood clots and how to reduce inflammation are not mysteries, and these types of interventions can help reduce the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. Symptomatic relief for other respiratory viruses with steroid inhalers, expectorants, prescription cough suppressants, and other medications is common. It has never been clear why COVID-19 care should be devoid of any outpatient treatment.
If Biden does none of these things, he will deserve the hit to his approval rating on the pandemic. Vaccine skepticism is likely to rise as vaccinated individuals continue to report becoming ill with COVID-19. The only way out of the endless cycle of surges will be effective treatments. We have one available for those who qualify and need more.