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Now, with the Omicron variant fueling an enormous new surge, they wrote, the United States must avoid becoming stuck in “a perpetual state of emergency.” The first step, they wrote, is recognizing that the coronavirus is one of several respiratory viruses circulating, and developing policies to address all of them together.
To be better prepared for inevitable outbreaks — including from new coronavirus variants — they suggested that the administration lay out goals and specific benchmarks, including what number of hospitalizations and deaths from respiratory viruses, including influenza and Covid-19, should prompt emergency mitigation and other measures.
In addition to urging the administration to adopt a longer view, the authors took pointed issue with some of Mr. Biden’s current policies and stances — especially on political lightning rod issues. They called for more aggressive use of vaccine mandates, which have drawn fierce opposition from Republicans, and said the nation needed a digital verification system for vaccination — so-called vaccine passports — which Mr. Biden has resisted in the face of Republican attacks on the concept.
“Relying on forgeable paper cards is unacceptable in the 21st century,” wrote Dr. Borio, Dr. Emanuel and Dr. Rick Bright, the chief executive of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute.
The most surprising thing about the articles is that they were written at all. Several of the authors said in interviews they were dismayed that the administration seemed caught off guard by the Delta and Omicron variants. Dr. Bright, who helped write two of the pieces, recalled the warning he issued when the advisory board had its last meeting on Jan. 20, 2021.
“The last thing I said,” he recalled, “is that our vaccines are going to get weaker and eventually fail. We must now prepare for variants; we have to put a plan in place to continually update our vaccines, our diagnostics and our genomics so we can catch this early. Because the variants will come, and we should never be surprised and we should never underestimate this virus.”
Mr. Biden published a pandemic strategy when he came into office, and Dr. Emanuel said the administration “executed very well on it through June,” until the Delta variant brought a new surge of cases. The president recently released a new winter strategy, just as the Omicron variant began spreading in the United States.