If you are going to tell people to wear masks, why would you deprive them of the highest-quality mask, and instead hoard that mask, keeping it unused by the public? But that’s what Joe Biden did, reports Eric Boehm:
Later today, the White House is expected to officially announce plans to send roughly 400 million high-quality, N95 masks to pharmacies and health centers around the country. From there, the masks will be distributed for free to anyone who wants one.
The Associated Press reports that the move is meant to encourage Americans to replace cloth masks with alternatives that better defend against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. In places where mask-wearing is mandated by government policy, at least some people will surely be happy to swap out their current masks for the free N95s.
If the “free masks” plan tracks earlier plans for distributing “free” vaccines and “free” testing, then we know how this will go. Some pharmacies will run out immediately while others will still have some in stock when the next pandemic arrives.
But the timing feels all wrong. As The New York Times’ David Leonhardt reported today, omicron is in retreat. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the White House to order the distribution of these masks months ago, when omicron first arrived on U.S. soil and federal officials started pushing Americans to wear N95 masks instead of basic cloth face coverings?
That, in turn, raises some serious questions about the national mask stockpile itself, which media reports say currently contains 750 million masks. If this is how they’re going to be distributed, essentially to whoever wants one, rather than on the basis of need, what is the point of having a stockpile for emergencies? Markets are perfectly capable of handling the distribution of N95 masks.
For that matter, why is the government sitting on a stash of 750 million masks after two years where mask shortages have been a recurring problem? Keep in mind, every mask that went into the federal stockpile—that is, every mask that will now be made available “for free” via the White House’s new program—is a mask that could have already been in use weeks or even months ago.
Biden also quashed plans for millions of cheap COVID tests until it was too late for them to be useful, harming the fight against the coronavirus.
In Europe, dozens of cheap tests for COVID have been available for many months, that can tell you almost immediately whether you have the coronavirus, and cost very little. But Biden’s FDA officials have made no attempt to get them approved, even though experts in Europe have already approved them. As science writer Ron Bailey has noted, “the reason that Americans don’t have access to cheap, fast COVID-19 self-tests right now is because the hypercautious regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been ridiculously slow to approve such tests. In fact, many of the self-tests widely and cheaply available now in Europe were developed here in the U.S. As the pandemic has worn on, FDA incompetence stymied the competitive processes that in private markets would have provided cheap, fast COVID-19 self-tests.”
Biden could have gotten the FDA bureaucrats to move faster, the way Trump speeded up innovation with Operation Warp Speed by getting the FDA bureaucrats to hurry up. But Biden was too lazy to do that.
But when experts approached the White House with the idea to produce millions of COVID tests in time for the holidays, they were turned down by the Biden administration. In December, the Biden administration promised it would make 500 million tests available to the American people — but as the New York Times reported, Americans would “have to wait” weeks or more before that happens.
Biden told ABC he wished he’d thought about ordering 500 million test kits months earlier. The implication was thought nobody had raised that idea with his administration until recently.
But members of his staff were briefed months earlier about just such a proposal. Vanity Fair describes “a proposal made to the White House in October — two months ago — to produce 700 million rapid tests per month. The experts behind it were looking backward and looking ahead, remembering last year’s brutal winter wave and hoping to mitigate the next one. Cold weather plus holiday gatherings equals rampant spread with or without a super-contagious new variant and the pros were hoping to get ahead of it. ‘Testing Surge to Prevent Holiday COVID Surge,’ reads page one of their 10-page plan.”
Can’t be done, the Biden administration told them. Especially since the slow-moving FDA has gotten around to approving only a fraction of the test kits submitted by manufacturers.
“So it wasn’t a matter of the president not having thought ahead about the need for rapid tests. It was a matter of his team considering, and then rejecting, a plan to do exactly that,” notes Hot Air. “Why wasn’t increasing manufacturing capacity for tests a priority for the White House when Biden took office? And why hasn’t the FDA adjusted its protocols for approving tests during the pandemic given the urgent demand for them?”
“The incompetence is scandalous, and not just because they failed to anticipate what might happen if a new immune-evasive variant exploded in the U.S. According to VF’s sources, the White House may have deliberately held back on testing because — you guessed it — they feared that making tests widely available would give vaccine holdouts an excuse not to get their shots. Now we’re facing a strain of the virus whose spread can’t be stopped by vaccination, only by isolating the infected, and we don’t have the weapon we need to figure out who’s infected,” Hot Air notes.
As Vanity Fair reports:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assured Americans early this summer that, once vaccinated, they could shed their masks and forgo testing. Those declarations quickly proved untrue as breakthrough infections have risen. “We put all our eggs in the vaccine basket and it’s not enough,” Dr. Jay Wohlgemuth, chief medical officer at Quest Diagnostics, told Vanity Fair.
Three experts who interacted with the White House came to believe that the Biden administration had deprioritized rapid testing,
Hot Air says “The Biden administration bought the hype in May that vaccination was about to end COVID and got blindsided when Delta and then Omicron, two variants that can puncture immunity, appeared. ” “This is a failure of imagination, and failure of leadership is in large part why we’re here,” Leana Wen told the Washington Post.
Hot Air says it “would be bad enough if the White House had said no to a testing ramp-up for the first time in October, but that wasn’t the first time.” According to the Washington Post, they had rebuffed earlier offers as well:
Some in the Biden administration did worry that the White House was being shortsighted. In the spring, well before delta took hold, a group of health-agency officials approached the White House to urge the purchase of millions of rapid tests, according to five senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.
They warned that without government intervention, the kits would remain hard-to-find and exorbitantly priced. The White House never followed up on the proposal.