WASHINGTON — The White House will unveil President Biden’s new coronavirus response strategy on Wednesday, a lengthy document intended to usher the nation into what some are calling a “new normal” — even as the possibility of another deadly variant looms.
White House officials declined to discuss details of the new strategy, but a person familiar with the plan said it would be released on Wednesday. It is expected to address a broad range of issues, including developing new vaccines and therapeutics and how to keep schools and businesses open even if the pandemic takes a turn for the worse.
The idea behind the strategy is to get the nation out of crisis mode, and to a place, Mr. Biden has said, where the virus will no longer disrupt everyday life, and Americans will learn to live with it.
Over the past week, as top federal health officials have been debating the new strategy, they have been evaluating a 136-page blueprint by outside experts whose recommendations include stronger air filtration systems in public buildings, billions of dollars in research and a major upgrade to the nation’s public health system. Officials have also been meeting with the authors of the plan.
Titled “Getting to and Sustaining the Next Normal: A Road Map for Living With Covid,” the experts’ plan assumes that there will be fewer deaths from Covid-19 in 2022 than in 2021. The administration has already adopted one of its recommendations, by issuing new guidelines for masking and other social distancing measures.
Mr. Biden has been walking a fine line in addressing the coronavirus pandemic, one of the biggest challenges of his presidency. With cases declining and the 2022 midterm elections approaching, he has been making the case that the United States has “made tremendous progress” against the coronavirus since he took office. He was to make that argument again in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
At the same time, the president has been reminding Americans that the virus is unpredictable, and that they must remain vigilant, while pledging to remain vigilant himself, by preparing for the possibility of future variants.
An average of about 66,000 new coronavirus cases are being reported each day in the United States, according to a New York Times database. That is far less than the average daily caseload of about 800,000 in January, at the peak of the winter surge fueled by the highly infectious Omicron variant. But it is still more than five times what the daily caseload was last June, before the Delta variant drove a summer surge.
Even as Mr. Biden proclaims that things are getting better, large segments of the American population remain at risk. Children under 5 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. On Monday, New York State health officials released data showing that the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech is much less effective in preventing infection in children 5 to 11 years than in adolescents or adults.
And an estimated seven million Americans have weak immune systems, illnesses or other disabilities that make them more vulnerable to severe Covid. The White House announced last week that it was taking several steps to make masks and coronavirus tests more accessible to people with disabilities.
The White House also announced steps on Tuesday to protect nursing home residents and hold providers accountable for unsafe and substandard care, including by expanding inspections and financial penalties on what the White House is calling “bad actor nursing homes” and “poor-performing facilities.”
Mr. Biden learned the hard way that predicting the course of an unpredictable virus is dangerous business. On July 4 of last year, he declared that the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” Then the Delta variant hit, and Mr. Biden’s remarks looked naïve.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Mr. Biden needs to “acknowledge both the physical and emotional pain that we’ve experienced,” while also exhibiting “true humility with this virus, because we still don’t know what the next six months are going to bring us.”
The president must also grapple with the reality on the ground. State and local governments across the country, many led by Democrats, have dropped their mask mandates. More coronavirus precautions are likely to slip away in the wake of new guidance released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The guidance no longer relies solely on case counts to gauge whether masks and other safety measures are needed; it suggests that 70 percent of Americans can stop wearing masks for now, and that they no longer need to socially distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces.
While Americans are eager to move past the pandemic, there is also trepidation, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Overall, about half of the public expects it will be safe for most people to “resume normal prepandemic activities” by late spring, including a third who say it is already safe to do so, the survey found. But a majority of Americans, 61 percent, also worry that lifting restrictions would put immune-compromised people at risk.
“The conventional wisdom seems to be that Americans are ready to throw off all Covid restrictions and be done with it, but the survey shows that reality is much more complicated,” said Drew Altman, the foundation’s president and chief executive. “Much of the public is sensibly both anxious and eager about returning to normal.”