President Joe Biden has continued working after his COVID-19 diagnosis while unmasked White House officials provide updates on his status and refuse to call for new mandates or restrictions, all of which is drawing scrutiny from the Left.
Biden released a video shortly after his diagnosis in which he reassured the public that he’s doing well and continuing to fill the capacities of the presidency, standing outside the White House in a blazer and speaking without a mask.
“I really appreciate your inquiries and concerns, but I’m doing well, getting a lot of work done, and I’m going to continue to get it done,” he said from the Truman Balcony. “In the meantime, thanks for your concern, and keep the faith. It’s going to be OK.”
Biden’s Twitter account posted images of him working on Friday as well, projecting a sense of normalcy.
President Biden continued working from the White House this morning, including speaking by phone with his national security team. pic.twitter.com/jdQkoDtupR
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 22, 2022
But the relatively laid-back stance angered some on the Left, who continue calling for mask mandates and social distancing and think the president should be too.
“I think Biden’s own COVID response is what made this [illness] inevitable, really,” Artie Vierkant, co-host of a left-leaning podcast that has promoted a universal mask mandate and paid sick leave for those with the virus, told the Washington Post. “He’s just one of tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are going to test positive for COVID today.”
Another expert quoted by the Washington Post blamed the White House for pushing a “back-to-normal” stance that it’s “not correcting” in the face of new variants.
Such sentiment is echoed in such liberal bastions as San Diego and Los Angeles County, which are reintroducing mask mandates this summer despite the presence of vaccines, treatments such as Paxlovid, and a population that has largely developed antibodies to fight the disease.
The White House press corps also expressed skepticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the president’s case.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, declined to push stricter mask mandates when pressed by a reporter who incorrectly stated that Washington, D.C., is in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high transmission” category. The CDC currently classifies Washington as having a medium transmission rate.
Reporters also scrutinized details of the president’s health and actions during press briefings on Thursday and Friday, such as what precautions the person who filmed the Truman Balcony video took, whether Biden started isolating Wednesday night or Thursday morning, when close contacts were notified, which tests Biden would take and how often he’d take them, and if there will there be a reevaluation of the protocols at the White House, among other questions.
When a reporter asked if there were any regrets about the amount of time Biden has spent unmasked in public, shaking hands, hugging people, and fist-bumping in recent days, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded, “Not at all.”
The White House’s response is likely aligned with where most of the public is on the issue at this point, argues American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Philip Wallach.
“For all that the COVID-forever crowd wants us to get excited about this latest wave, the basic fact is that there has been no big death wave this time,” he said. “People who want vaccines can get them. And I think the vast majority of people want to move on — even if those who don’t are overrepresented in the White House press corps! So on both the merits and the politics, I don’t find the Biden administration’s desire to treat this as a nonevent to be particularly surprising. A huge portion of the country has now experienced having-COVID-as-a-non-event for themselves by this point.”
The BA.5 omicron subvariant is responsible for a recent spike in infections in the United States, including many reinfections, and has proven more transmissible than the previously dominant subvariant. However, early data do not indicate that it is more severe than the first omicron variant, and data continue to show hospitalizations to be low compared to earlier in the pandemic.
Polling also shows that most people no longer have COVID-19 top of mind, with just 1% of respondents in a Monmouth University poll identifying the coronavirus as the most important problem facing their family today. Instead, they showed much more concern for economic issues such as inflation (33%) and gas prices (15%).
White House officials said they knew that it was just a matter of time before Biden contracted COVID-19, according to chief of staff Ron Klain, indicating that they too may have moved on to other concerns.
“We all knew there would come a time when by being out there and doing his job as president, which means engaging with the public and engaging with constituents, engaging with members of the House and all these people, that sooner or later, like a lot of Americans, he would get COVID,” Klain told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace on Thursday.
“He has the benefit of two vaccines and two boosters, and he’s been publicly advocating for every American to take the benefit of our free vaccination or free booster program,” he added.