President Biden addressed the nation earlier today about the COVID-19 surge caused by the Delta variant. While his plan is an important step forward from the status quo, he failed to commit to the very policies that could bring this nightmare to a swifter end.
The good: President Biden is finally invoking the Defense Production act to address the shortage of rapid tests. Requiring paid time off for vaccination is an important step forward, and stepping up distribution of monoclonal antibodies for those suffering from the disease will save lives. The tone of visible frustration was also welcome – "We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin," the president said to anti-vaxxers.
Millions will fall under new mandates for federal workers, contractors, and health-care professionals. But holdouts in those industries represent only a small fraction of the more than 60 million remaining unvaccinated adults. Yes, tens of millions more will have to comply with the plan's new vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees, but the carve-out allowing for weekly tests instead of vaccines will let far too many people off the hook.
The federal government could require the shots for anyone who wants to board an airplane in the United States. Roughly half of all Americans take a flight in a normal year, and a mandate is one of the few policies that would compel even people who are extremely hostile to the vaccine to get it anyway. Instead, Biden is just going to double the toothless fine for passengers who refuse to wear a mask.
More rapid tests to help keep schools open is great. But the president provided no update on the timeline to vaccinate children under the age of 12, once again granting unconditional deference to the FDA despite widespread demand from parents for a quicker approval process.
That Biden felt the need to give this speech is evidence his team finally understands the magnitude of the problem. But the details suggest they still don't understand how to correct it.