No 'panic,' but Covid to 'overrun' some US hospitals: Biden
Biden spoke as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of Covid-19 continued to punch holes in airlines' busy Christmas holiday schedules, prompting lead White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci to suggest that a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel might be necessary.
"I think that's something that seriously should be considered," he told MSNBC.
In a virtual meeting hosted by the White House with several state governors and top health advisors, Biden stressed that the Omicron variant would not have the same impact as the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 or the Delta surge this year.
"Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic," he said.
Testing is more widely available and mass vaccinations mean that for many people infections do not lead to serious illness.
"Because there have been so many vaccinations and boosters, we're not seeing hospitalizations rising as much as they did previously," he said. "Americans, America have made progress. Things are better."
But "with the rising cases, we still have tens of millions of unvaccinated people and we're seeing hospitalizations rise," he said. There are "hospitals in some places that are going to be overrun both in terms of equipment and staff."
Biden acknowledged that despite ramping up testing capacity, it's "clearly not enough."
"Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do," he said.
In addition to expanding free testing sites, the administration will soon send 500 million at-home test kits to Americans, Biden said.
But "if we'd known, we would have gone harder, quicker," Biden said. "We have to do more."
The United States has recorded the world's highest national pandemic toll, with more than 816,000 recorded Covid deaths and 52 million cases.
International comparisons are skewed by differences in the accuracy of governments' reporting methods, while on a per capita basis the US death rate is further down the list.
Hampering the US response has been fierce political resistance to vaccines that were developed at record speed in 2020.
Many Republicans in particular are resisting the Biden administration's push to mandate the shots in large businesses. There has also been reluctance, again mostly in Republican circles, to get booster shots.
One pro-vaccine bastion is New York, where some of the toughest mandates in the country took effect Monday.
The rules, ordered by outgoing Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, require all private sector employees to get vaccinated.
In addition, proof of full vaccination is required for anyone aged 12 and up to eat at indoor restaurants or enter other public venues, like gyms and movie theaters. Children aged five to 11 will have to show proof of one vaccine dose.
De Blasio called it a "historic day for New York City."
"We're implementing the strongest vaccine mandate in the country," he told MSNBC. "Every mayor, every governor, every CEO in America should do vaccine mandates now because we have got to -- 2022 has to be year we leave Covid behind."
At his meeting with the governors, Biden stressed his attempt to forge a bipartisan approach, telling reporters afterward that "they thanked me for the cooperation they're getting."
"There were no complaints, (but) a lot of cooperation," he said.