On 2 December, the White House announced its winter plans for a likely Covid surge that would come as cold temperatures and holiday plans drove people indoors. It included an alarmingly inadequate plan to get at-home tests to people.
The plan dropped nine days after scientists in South Africa had announced that they had discovered a new variant of the coronavirus, one that appeared to be even more transmissible. The US had acted quickly to ban travel from South Africa and several other southern African countries, claiming that such restrictions would “slow things down” and “buy time” for the US to prepare.
But as the days ticked closer to Christmas and New Year’s, and the inevitable surge of infections that would follow, it was difficult to see what we were buying time for. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, had scoffed at the idea of providing free tests for Americans and mailing them to homes, as many other countries have done. How did the richest country in the world – a country now governed by the party that allegedly ‘believes the science’ – get here? Instead, the administration said that 150 million Americans – less than half of the country – could be reimbursed for tests if they had insurance, if they fronted the money, if they could wait to be reimbursed, and if they didn’t buy them until mid-January. Tests purchased before the holidays would be ineligible for reimbursement. Meanwhile, tests were impossible to find in huge swathes of the country – or required standing in lines so long that they were only accessible to those who could afford what amounted to a tax on people’s time.
It was a plan that was so complicated, so limited, so inadequate, and so fundamentally wrong-headed that it exemplified everything that has gone wrong with the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus to date.
A mantra of successful health campaigns is “make the healthy choice the easy choice”. But the Biden administration has been intent on making matters that should be easy difficult, prioritizing rules and regulations over results, deferring to private industry in matters of state responsibility, burdening individuals already at their breaking points, adding cumbersome barriers of time and logistics, being too slow, and displaying too much contempt and too little urgency in responding to cries for help.