NICOLE RUSSELL: White House declares US is ‘not out of the pandemic’ but claims credit for success

White House press briefings have surely become an exercise in public relations futility, even gaslighting, and there was no better example of that than May 9, when President Biden’s Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, engaged in a back and forth with a reporter about the existence of the Covid pandemic.

A reporter asked Jean-Pierre: “Give a sense of how the administration is feeling coming out of the public health emergency, given where we were two, three years ago. Does this administration see this as a success in terms of combating Covid or a sigh of relief at all?”

Jean-Pierre responded with a few interesting points. First, she said things were good and it’s all because of President Joe Biden. “We are at a different point in the pandemic,” she said.

“Over the last two years, the administration has made significant progress in the ability to manage Covid in a way that protects life and health and no longer meaningfully disrupts our lives. That’s because of this President’s leadership.”

Jean-Pierre continued. “Again, we’re not out of the pandemic, we’re certainly in a different place and that’s because of what this President has been able to do.”

She’s correct that we’re at a different point in the pandemic, and later in her answer, she described exactly why: Covid deaths have declined by 95 percent; new Covid hospitalizations are down nearly 88 percent; Covid cases and deaths globally are at its lowest levels since the start of the pandemic; and the World Health Organization says that Covid pandemic no longer qualifies as a global health emergency. Sounds like we’re out of a pandemic, no?  

Then why is she saying that we’re not out of the pandemic? Of course, Covid has not vanished, but to suggest the U.S. should still be operating as if there’s a global pandemic is disingenuous, at best, and at worst, lying. Her mixed messages are frustrating: On one hand she’s telling people all the statistics that show Covid is but a shell of itself, and on the other, she says we’re “not out of the pandemic.” Which is it? 

There’s only one reason to give both messages: The Biden Administration benefits from both. They benefit from telling people there’s still a pandemic, so people are more fearful and more apt to do what the state tells them to do. A fearful people are an obedient people. If people are afraid, they will lock themselves inside, wear masks, refuse to send their kids to school, fail to attend church, and get a vaccine. 2020 and 2021 are proof. 

There’s another reason to tell people a bevy of statistics that make it look like the effects of Covid have dwindled to nothing: This data makes the Biden administration look good. Here, the administration is the savior, either way. If the pandemic is ongoing, one need only look to the administration for guidance; on the flip side, if the pandemic is almost gone, one need only thank the administration for eradicating it. The Biden Administration can do all. Incredible.

Here, too, Jean-Pierre missteps: Both the Trump and Biden administrations pushed vaccines as a cure-all for the pandemic, along with social distancing, and sanitization. If vaccines were the real solution, and some have questioned their efficacy, the Trump administration is solely responsible for the existence and speed with which vaccines were available, striking a deal with Pfizer in March 2020, just three months after Covid seemed to reach the US.

While the Biden administration pushed Americans to get vaccines as well, it’s a misnomer to say they were solely responsible for them. They were only widely available to the public in 2021, around the time Biden took office, because Trump had pushed them through to completion so quickly.

Both administrations—Trump and Biden —were too quick to push mask mandates and national quarantines, which encouraged state officials to shutter businesses, churches, and schools, but none of that can be undone. We can only learn how to handle a similar crisis better in the future. 

It’s exhausting, even infuriating, to see the Biden administration take credit for both the eradication of Covid, while also still claiming the pandemic is not yet gone in order to reap the benefits of both fear and praise. Press conferences like this one are why President Biden’s approval ratings continue to sink to a new low and Americans distrust the administration.

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