President Joe Biden will deliver an Omicron variant-focused speech on Tuesday, as the country grapples with rising coronavirus case numbers, deaths, and hospitalizations as the holidays approach.
“Building off his Winter Plan, @POTUS will announce new steps the Administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance, while also issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a series of tweets. “We are prepared for the rising case levels, and @POTUS will detail how we will respond to this challenge.”
Psaki’s statement that the administration is “prepared for the rising case levels” comes after Vice President Kamala Harris said in an interview published Friday in the Los Angeles Times that the administration was caught off guard by the surge of Covid variations.
“We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” Harris told the Times in a year-end interview. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”
Biden’s statement on the new variety follows his “direct message” to the public on Thursday, warning that individuals who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 face a bleak and terrible winter if they do not get their doses soon.
“I want to send a direct message to the American people: Due to the steps we’ve taken Omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would have otherwise done,” Biden said in remarks at the White House following his Covid-19 briefing Thursday.
According to those familiar with the meeting, Biden’s senior health officials asked him to make that message in the sharpest terms possible before his Thursday speech. The urgency of the situation could only be conveyed by pointing out the dramatic differences in outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated illnesses.
When the cameras were ushered into the room, Biden and his team — which included Dr. Anthony Fauci, two top vaccine experts from the National Institutes of Health, White House Covid response coordinator Jeff Zients, and his deputy Natalie Quillian — began writing out by hand the grave warning he would deliver later.
The appearance of the Omicron variant has thrown the country — and the White House — back into the midst of a potentially deadly pandemic, posing both public health and political concerns for a leader whose ultimate success hinges almost completely on his ability to contain the virus.
Cases and hospitalizations are already on the rise in several parts of the country, with a 31% increase in cases and a 20% increase in hospitalizations only two weeks ago.