Biden says ‘The pandemic is over,’ but health experts disagree

In an interview with '60 Minutes', the president said the pandemic is over, but much work remains. Physicians rejected the assessment and noted hundreds are dying each day.

In a wide-ranging interview on the season premiere of “60 Minutes” Sunday night, President Biden surprised many health experts by saying, “The pandemic is over.”

Responding to a question from CBS journalist Scott Pelley, Biden also said, “We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lotta work on it. It's-- but the pandemic is over. if you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it's changing.” (Here’s the transcript of the interview.)

Many healthcare experts cringed at the president’s assessment.

Esther Choo, an emergency physician and researcher, wrote on Twitter, “The pandemic is not over, and acting like it is harming its ability to *ever* be over.” Just last week, she wrote in a piece for MSNBC, “The pandemic is marching along quite robustly.”

While COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are well below the peaks of last winter, the virus continues to take a toll.

After Biden’s interview aired, Eric Topol, a physician, author and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said on Twitter, “Wish this was true. What's over is @POTUS's and our government's will to get ahead of it, with magical thinking on the new bivalent boosters.”

Topol added Biden’s statement ignores the reality of long Covid, the likelihood of new variants, and “our current incapability for blocking infections and transmission.”

Gavin Yamey, director of global health and public policy at Duke University, disagreed with the president in a piece for Time magazine. The headline: “Biden is wrong, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over.” Yamey said the pandemic will end, but we’re not at the finish line.

“The major problem with the President saying the pandemic is ‘over’ is that it could impede our efforts to reach low endemic levels,” Yamey wrote. “For example, Congress is less likely to renew funding for COVID-19 measures if the pandemic has ‘ended.’”

Hospitals have been urging Biden and Congress to approve more federal aid. While acknowledging federal aid helped sustain hospitals in the pandemic, they also say they haven’t received aid for the influx of COVID-19 patients infected with the Delta and Omicron variants.

Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, has urged the president and lawmakers to support American hospitals. More than half of U.S. hospitals could end 2022 in negative margins as hospitals are losing billions, the AHA said in a report last week. Hospitals and health systems are also anxious to continue waivers for key services, including telehealth, that are tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

In a media call last week, Pollack also pointed out the fight against COVID-19 hasn’t ended. Hospitals continue to treat COVID-19 patients, along with a host of patients who deferred care in the pandemic and are now requiring longer hospital stays.

Hundreds are dying each day due to COVID-19 (the 7-day average is 410, The Washington Post reports). The 7-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations is just over 24,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jorge Caballero, who co-founded Coders Against COVID, a collaborative to address data gaps in the pandemic, said on Twitter that he feared “saying the 'pandemic is over' will directly lead to preventable illness and death.”

The Biden administration sought to clarify the messaging on the pandemic.

Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reiterated Monday that the COVID-19 public health emergency remains in effect.

“HHS will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration,” Lovenheim posted on Twitter. “As we’ve done previously, we’ll continue to lean on the science to determine the length of the PHE.”

Health officials are also urging the continuation of the public health emergency so millions won't lose health coverage. When the emergency declaration expires and Medicaid's continuous enrollment provision ends, the health department projects as many as 15 million Americans could lose coverage.

Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s chief expert on infectious diseases, told The Washington Post, “We still have a lot of work to do to get it down to a low enough level that we would feel comfortable with it.”

“I’m not comfortable with 400 deaths per day,” Fauci said in the interview.