President Biden said Monday that he’d have “gone harder, quicker” to distribute COVID-19 tests if he’d known the Omicron variant was going to cause record-high rates of new infections — days after a report said the White House rejected expert advice for a pre-holiday testing surge.
“We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December. That’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough. If I — we’d known, we would have gone harder, quicker if we could have,” Biden said during a virtual meeting with state governors.
Vanity Fair reported Thursday that experts from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative and other groups pitched a 10-page plan to White House officials on Oct. 22 that called for the production of 732 million tests per month for a “Testing Surge To Prevent [a] Holiday COVID surge.” The plan wanted “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”
Three days after the meeting, White House officials told the experts that the administration would not adopt the plan. One official who participated in the meeting told the magazine, “We did not have capacity to manufacture over-the-counter tests at that scale.”
Biden ran for president last year pledging to bring competent management to the pandemic. But this year’s Delta variant surge caused his approval rating on COVID-19 to fall. Earlier this month, the number of US pandemic deaths under Biden passed the number of fatalities under President Donald Trump within a nearly identical period of time — despite the mass distribution of vaccines.
Biden expressed regret last week about his seemingly sluggish response to the new Omicron variant, which has caused the highest-ever infection rates in areas including New York City and Washington, DC.
Biden said in an ABC News interview Wednesday that he should have thought more quickly of a plan to mass distribute 500 million at-home rapid tests, which was announced Dec. 21 but won’t begin to happen until January.
“The answer is, yeah, I wish I had thought about ordering a half a billion [tests] two months ago, before COVID hit here,” Biden told ABC’s David Muir as FEMA rushed to set up sites in New York City and other areas slammed by massive holiday testing demand.
In mid-January, a previously announced Biden rule will take effect requiring private insurance companies to reimburse policyholders for rapid tests that they buy themselves. Another 50 million rapid tests are in the process of being shipped by the federal government to local clinics for free distribution.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a pre-Christmas press briefing last week that details of how to mass-distribute the 500 million free at-home rapid tests are still being developed — despite the rollout being previewed to reporters last Monday and formally announced on Tuesday. It’s not yet clear how many tests each household will be allowed to request, how quickly they will be mailed or when a website will be launched.