By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
So Biden is declaring that Covid is no longer a national emergency (and never mind that Covid is now a leading cause of death among children and adolescents. That’s just a statistic, as Stalin is wrongly said to have remarked).
But why? Tim Kaine is puzzled:
“I’ve yet to hear, ‘Okay, here is the rationale,'” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the [Senate’s] health committee. “I’m sure that they have one, I just haven’t heard it.”
So why now? Here we are on firmer ground. FOX:
The House Rules Committee, which takes direction from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the scheduling of legislation, will meet Monday to set up floor votes on four pieces of legislation that would eliminate the emergencies that have been maintained by the Biden administration, even though President Biden himself said last year that “the pandemic is over.”
The White House response to McCarthy’s gambit came in the form of an OMB memo, “STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY” (PDF):
The COVID-19 national emergency [here] and public health emergency (PHE) [here] were declared by theTrump Administration in 2020. They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date. This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE. To be clear, continuation of these emergency declarations until May 11 does not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct with regard to COVID-19. They do not impose mask mandates or vaccine mandates. They do not restrict school or business operations. They do not require the use of any medicines or tests in response to cases of COVID-19.
Some remarks on the memo:
(1) “[D]oes not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct.” Libertarians won, didn’t they? They didn’t just win; they won overwhelmingly.
(2) Both emergencies were declared by the Trump Adminstration, and yet Republicans aren’t claiming any success as a result. Can’t they construct a coherent narrative any more? (Benghazi: No.) The rhetoric is all about “executive over-reach” by Biden, who — bless his heart — wasn’t even in office when the emergencies went into effect. Perhaps (2) has something to do with (1).
(3) The OMB PDF was ridiculously hard to find. The mainstream sources quoted from it, but never linked to it; they never do. Meanwhile, the White House website is an omnishambles where you can’t find anything (as I have discovered on other occasions; it’s also very cellphone-friendly, so there are one or two hits on each page of results, in ginormous type. It’s like they’re trying to make us stupid and ignorant.)
So then Biden traipses out of the White House and steps on his own [male reproductive organ], not unheard of for him. The video:
NEW – Biden says the "COVID emergency" will end "when the Supreme Court ends it."
"We’ve extended to May the 11th to make sure we get everything done," Biden added. pic.twitter.com/QfNKmKuSS4
— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) January 31, 2023
And in prose, from FOX:
As he walked in front of the White House on Tuesday, he was asked by NBC’s Kristen Welker, “What’s behind your decision to end the COVID emergency?”
Biden came over to grasp her hand as she held an umbrella and replied, “The COVID emergency will end when the Supreme Court ends it. We’ve extended it to May the 15th to make sure we get everything done. That’s all.”
Some remarks on this episode:
(1) Biden gets the date wrong; the emergencies (see STATEMENT above), are to be ended on May 11, not May 15.
(2) Biden doesn’t answer the question. As even the New York Post sees:
[Biden] didn’t say Tuesday what specifically he wanted to accomplish by extending the emergency declaration[s until May 15].
(3) The pandemic must certainly be over, as an unmasked Biden is breathing right in the face of the reporter whose umbrella he grasped, which looks pretty odd, come to think about it.
(4) Everybody is puzzled about “the Supreme Court ends it.” The Supreme Court doesn’t have anything to do with anything! Fox: “Twitter users baffled by Biden claiming ‘Supreme Court’ will end COVID emergency.” And they’re right to be baffled.
Without wishing to put
words in Biden’s mouth thoughts in Biden’s brain, he may have been thinking of two PHE-related cases before the Supreme Court, one on so-called Title 42 (important to border-adjacent advocates) and the other on the HEROES Act (important to student debt forgiveness). In essence, the Biden Adminstration treated the PHEs as a legal Christmas tree, upon which it hung these two decorations. But now the holiday season is over, and it’s time to drag the dead tree out and leave it with the rest of the trash on the street (along with the immunocompromised, etc.). But what to do with the baubles? Time will tell.
Since the press perfervidly and simultaneously believes that “Covid is over” and that “everyone will get it,” there’s not much coverage of the actual health effects of lifting the PHEs. One impliction is that Federal Workers may be forced back into poorly ventilated workspaces:
Roughly half of federal employees are still working from home, which has drawn the ire of politicians ranging from Democratic Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser to House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY). That, too, was initiated at the outset of the pandemic and has largely remained in place even as private companies bring workers back in person.
A second implication is that Biden’s policy of mass infection will continue to move from strength to strength, as things Covid become more expensive and people lose Medicaid coverage:
The public-health-emergency designation allows for certain Covid-19 measures, such as the suspension of eligibility renewals for people on Medicaid and the prescription of controlled substances via telehealth. States are bracing for an expansive effort to redetermine individuals’ Medicaid eligibility once the designation is lifted. Public-health leaders say millions of beneficiaries could lose coverage.
Finally — and this the serious part, if you are at all concerned you should go read this — Kaiser Health News put together an enormous, multi-tabled brief that oddly, no other source is quoting: “What Happens When COVID-19 Emergency Declarations End? Implications for Coverage, Costs, and Access.” Here is the list of topics covered:
This brief provides an overview of the major health-related COVID-19 federal emergency declarations that have been made, and summarizes the flexibilities triggered by each in the following areas:
- Coverage, costs, and payment for COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines
- Medicaid coverage and federal match rates
- Other Medicaid and CHIP flexibilities
- Other Medicare payment and coverage flexibilities
- Other private insurance coverage flexibilities
- Access to medical countermeasures (vaccines, tests, and treatments) through FDA emergency use authorization (EUA)
- Liability immunity to administer medical countermeasures
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all federal policy and regulatory provisions made in response to COVID-19 emergency declarations. For example, we do not cover the entire range of federal and state emergency authorities exercised under Medicaid Disaster Relief State Plan Amendments (SPAs), other Medicaid and CHIP SPAs, and other state-reported administrative actions; Section 1115 waivers; Section 1135 waivers; and 1915 (c) waiver Appendix K strategies. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services maintains a more complete list of coronavirus waivers and flexibilities that have been exercised since early 2020; some state actions to respond to the emergency may have expiration dates that are not tied to the end of the federal emergency declarations. This brief also does not include all congressional actions that have been made affecting access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatment that are not connected to emergency declarations, such as coverage of COVID-19 vaccines under Medicare and private insurance (see Commercialization of COVID-19 Vaccines, Treatments, and Tests: Implications for Access and Coverage for more discussion of these issues).
My reaction when I encountered this: “Holy hell!” I know we have readers who assist others in navigating the health system; perhaps they can comment.
I collected a great number of very stupid comments on Biden’s policy shift, but on reflection we already know the sort of creatures Bob Wachter and Ashish Jha are, so why even bother. So from the great cloud of witnesses, let me pick two. First, an anonymous official:
“This decision is based on what is best for the health of our country at this time,” the senior official said. “We’re in a pretty good place in the pandemic, we’ve come through the winter, cases are down dramatically from where they were the past two winters.”
The “pretty good place” is a high plateau, as high as some previous surges — granted, not as high as Biden’s enormous Omicron jouissance — and that goes for case counts (such as they are), transmission, postivity, and deaths, and all before we get to vascular and neurological damage even from mild cases, and Long Covid (note that the “winter” talking point implies that Covid is like the flu. It’s not). We are not in a “good place.” I have no doubt that the senior official is in a “good,” Davos-like place, but “we” are not.
Second, let’s consider the words of the engineer driving the Covid train: Pfizer. From “Fourth Quarter 2022 Earnings Conference Call Prepared Remarks January 31, 2023″ (PDF). CEO Albert “Cui Bono” Bourla running through his slides:
Now, let me turn my attention to our COVID-19 portfolio. At the JP Morgan Conference earlier this month, I spoke about expecting 2023 to be a transition year, representing a low point in our COVID-related revenues. Let me provide a little more color on that.
I will start with Comirnaty in the U.S. as an example..
In 2022, 31% of the population — or 104 million Americans — received on average 1.4 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for a total of 144 million doses. Comirnaty’s share was 64% — or 92 of these 144 million doses. In 2023, we expect about 24% of the population – or 79 million people – to receive vaccine doses during the year. This drop is due to expected fewer primary vaccinations and reduced compliance with recommendations. We expect they will receive about 1.3 doses per person on average in 2023 as fewer people are expected to receive their primary doses and, for the most part, only those who are older or at higher risk are expected to continue receiving more than one booster per year. This should result in about 102 million total vaccine doses administered in 2023..
We believe Pfizer will maintain at least its 64% market share and therefore expect about 65 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be administered in 2023..
In 2024, we expect the utilization rates and market share figures to stabilize and come in roughly the same as in 2023..
Then starting in 2025, and continuing in 2026 and beyond, we expect to see an increase in COVID-19 vaccination rates, assuming the successful development and approval of a COVID/flu combination product..
A successful introduction of a COVID/flu combo could over time bring the percentage of Americans receiving the COVID-19 vaccine closer to the portion of people getting flu shots, which is currently about.
Remarks on Bourla:
(1) A permanently high plateau of Covid infection is very, very good for Pfizer, By extension–
(2) Biden’s policy of mass infection without mitigation is very, very good for Pfizer.
(3) Anybody who says or implies that Covid is “like the flu” has been talking to a pharmaceutical salesperson. That’s the product Pfizer wants to sell you, and the talking point is being backfilled (as, for example, by that anonymous senior official (Klain? Zeints?).
So that’s where we are! And now, I’m going to dig up a copy of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, and read it again. Stay safe out there!