Opinion

What did we learn from Biden's bout with COVID-19?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

President Biden this week tested negative for COVID-19 — twice — and announced that he was returning to his duties in person after working in isolation for five days after his infection. Biden is leaving isolation but will continue to wear a mask through the 10 days recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At 79, Biden was at high risk for serious illness. He credited his quick recovery to the fact that he was fully vaccinated, twice boosted, and received a five-day course of the Pfizer antiviral Paxlovid. He urged all Americans to get their shots, saying, "You don't need to be president to get these tools."

Public health experts echoed Biden's message that getting available vaccines and treatments would help people avoid hospitalization and death from the newly dominant and super-infectious Omicron subvariant known as BA.5, which is spreading quickly across the country but resulting in far fewer deaths than previous coronavirus waves. Biden said his illness showed that "COVID isn't gone." What else did we learn from Biden's bout with COVID-19? Here's what several experts and pundits concluded:

This shows how important vaccines and boosters are

"Biden's case has been a sober reminder that the pandemic is not over," says Morgan Chalfant at The Hill. "But at the same time, it's also a sign of the progress the world has made since the first known case of COVID-19 in 2019." Biden is in the age group hit hardest through most of the pandemic by severe illness and death. The announcement of his infection "put Washington on edge last week," but now that he has returned to work and good health so quickly, his case has "turned into a new opportunity for the White House to stress the importance of boosters and antiviral treatments as the country fights the highly transmissible BA.5 variant." Biden still faces the risk of a rebound infection or long COVID, but so far he has shown the benefits of following doctors' orders. 

Biden's illness is a reminder this isn't over

The president's COVID case provided "a timely reminder that highly transmissible COVID variants continue to emerge and circumnavigate the globe with frightening ease," says the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an editorial. Biden's symptoms were mild — a runny nose, fatigue, and a sporadic dry cough. That's a reflection of how much better equipped we are to protect ourselves from severe illness and death than we were earlier in the pandemic. Highly effective N95 masks and home-test kits are widely available, so it's easier to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus. Paxlovid is "close to 90 percent effective in preventing severe illness" if you take it within five days of your first symptoms. And vaccines and boosters really work at keeping you as safe as possible from life-threatening complications. "Biden's case urgently signals that both caution and action remain critical."

If Biden got it, we all will

Biden, like his predecessor Donald Trump, got COVID because of his "own mistakes," says Maggie Koerth at FiveThirtyEight. "Trump likely got his infection via a famously cavalier approach to party planning — throwing a largely unmasked gathering at a point in the pandemic when vaccines weren't yet available." He got so sick he nearly ended up on a ventilator. Biden followed the advice of public health experts, but framed the pandemic as "just another matter of personal responsibility." The administration bet so heavily that everybody would get vaccinated that they "rolled back federal mask mandates" in May 2021 and said July 4 of that year would be "a celebration of freedom from COVID." "The result is an America where COVID keeps mutating, waves of disease keep coming and the populations of the most vulnerable remain isolated, trapped and dying." And this all but guaranteed that "the most responsible and well-protected of Americans" would eventually get infected. "Even a president who trusts the science."

Biden just exposed the lie in his own COVID message

The White House was "genuinely upset" by Biden's illness, says Tucker Carlson at Fox News. What they're concerned about, more than his health, "is the fact that Joe Biden just stepped on their message and from day one, that message has been consistent and unrelenting: 'Get the vaccine or else.' Get the vaccine or you can't have a job or an organ transplant or Thanksgiving with your kids. Get the vax or you can't visit your mom as she dies in the hospital." Biden and others in his administration, including actual doctors, told us over and over that this was now "a pandemic of the unvaccinated." There are even studies looking into signs vaccines can eventually reduce immune function. They ridiculed anyone who questioned them as anti-science, and it turns out they were the ones who were wrong.

Ignore the right-wing gloating

It was inevitable that the right-wing media would "spike the football" after learning Biden had COVID, says Alex Shephard at The New Republic. But the fact "that vaccinated people can still contract Covid-19 has been apparent and obvious for more than a year." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said in February there was evidence that about "60 percent of Americans had caught the virus — a number that has surely increased with the emergence of highly transmissible variants." Biden, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, and others always said there was a risk vaccinated people could test positive. The "core message" behind their vaccine push was that "the vaccines made transmission less likely and, most importantly, sharply lowered the risk of death or hospitalization. Biden's case was entirely consistent with that message. Tucker Carlson did his viewers a "profound disservice" by airing his "smug and misleading anti-vaccine argument."

If anything, this proves the pandemic is over

Biden's "case is high-profile evidence that the pandemic is completely over — that Americans' anti-coronavirus efforts should focus exclusively on getting jabs to those who need them and treating cases as they pop up," says the New York Post. We now have the tools to get people in high-risk groups through this with mild symptoms. "That means absolutely no mandates — not for mass masking and so on, and not even for vaccination (except perhaps for special cases such as those who care for the elderly)." We can safely ignore the "clickbait-hungry media" and alarmist health-care professionals "who urge the nation to behave like it's still early 2020 — ignoring not just the fact that the virus has become a background threat like so many others." We've learned a lot "about what works and what doesn't." Let's put that knowledge to work and move on. "This pandemic is done, and it's not coming back. We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

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