The President Must Signal It Is Ok To Return To Normal If That Is Your Choice
My Fellow Americans,
When I took office eleven months ago, I had hoped that this Christmas would be one in which we are back to normal, with the pandemic and the disruption it caused to our lives behind us. Unfortunately, SARS-COVID 2 has proven to be a relentless foe. Despite our best efforts, including the successful deployment of vaccines, which have inoculated more than 200 million Americans, we are having to contend with even more contagious variants of this pathogen that we had known were possible, but hoped would not come to fruition.
I know a lot of you out there are scared, angry and/or perhaps frustrated. You are worried about your loved ones and yourselves. You are worried about your businesses, your jobs, and your future. You are worried for your children and their education and health. I understand how terrifying this is, a pandemic that has killed 800,000 of our fellow Americans seemingly without end. But I am speaking to you tonight to tell you, you no longer need to fear this virus in the same way you did 21 months ago.
I want to assure you all that despite these setbacks caused by the Delta and Omicron variants, we are not back to square one. This is not March 2020. We have come quite far from those dark days of overcrowded hospitals and mass graves. There is no reason to panic, there is no reason to be afraid. We are no longer dealing with a novel virus. We have learned a lot and made a lot of progress since early 2020.
For the vast majority of us, any infection from COVID-19 will be mild and perhaps asymptomatic from here on out. There is always a small risk of severe illness and death and there always will be, but going forward, according to many experts I talk to, the risk to those of us who got vaccinated and have some level of immune knowledge is very small. It is not enough, in my opinion, to warrant extreme restrictions on daily life.
I know there are plenty of public health experts out there will are calling for new restrictions and telling people vaccines alone can’t get us out of this, but I am a realist. I know that the level of fatigue in this country, and the lesser virulence of the new mutation has zapped whatever support for further restrictions exist. But let me assure you, I will not call for or support any new lockdowns or shutdowns. I will not call for any more mask mandates or travel bans. I will especially not call, and I promised to even oppose, anymore school closures. Our children have sacrificed enough of their vital education time to this and remote options are not acceptable beyond an extremely short time period. Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic, and it is the only realistic way. I do not expect wide compliance to any future restrictions, not to any level that would make them effective, and I will not waste federal resources enforcing them hoping for a different outcome.
The vast majority of Americans have made tremendous sacrifices to help slow the spread and save lives, especially older Americans who have been forced to spend some of their golden years in isolation. I am troubled by the reports of increasing rates of dementia and Alzheimers in patients who have been isolated and the speed in which these diseases have progressed. Many have died of non-COVID reasons spending their final days isolated away from their families, only able to see them through a screen or a window. Millions of hardworking Americans have had to shutter their business and fall into debt in order to keep up strict social distancing and quarantine regulations. They have seen their livelihoods ripped from them; everything they built just wiped away. I cannot ask them to sacrifice more. Our nation’s young people have had to endure several worldwide crises in their short lifetime and have suffered more than perhaps any generation since the Greatest Generation.They have survived two economic catastrophes, a terrible job market, high energy prices, high housing costs, low wages, war and gun violence. Because of this, they are well behind where their parents and grandparents were at their age. I am troubled by the reports of increased suicide, depression and drug addiction in our young people stemming from the shattering of social bonds because of the pandemic.They have sacrificed enough. Children in this country have seen their schooling disrupted, often for unreasonably and unacceptably long durations. Education and social connections are vital to a child’s development and I cannot accept depriving children of these things almost two years in. When we first stared down this virus in early 2020, the benefits from closing businesses and schools and limiting travel outweighed the negatives, but since then, these trade offs have shifted. I believe now the negatives far outweigh the benefits. As President, it is my job to make tough decisions for the good of society as a whole, not just for our economic and physical health, but also for the greater good of society.
I cannot in good conscious, despite many infectious disease experts and activists demanding it, ask Americans who have done their part to continue the sacrifice indefinitely, especially not to protect those who made the choice to forgo vaccination. You have earned your right to return to your pre-pandemic lives, if you should feel safe and confident enough to do so. For those who may still be concerned, the CDC will continue to offer guidance on what steps you can take in order to feel comfortable resuming your normal life.
I know some of you feel that many in our nation has not made the same sacrifices others have in order to control this virus and that is why our death toll is so high. It is true, we did not do the strict lockdowns and contact tracing other countries did, and we saw many American flout mitigation rules and protest them, but most Americans did what was asked of them and those countries that implemented stricter protocols are not clear of the pandemic anymore than we are. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and South Korea, despite early successes utilising non-pharmaceutical interventions like lockdowns and contact tracing are struggling with COVID again right now, Australia has ruled out anymore lockdowns.
We must accept that the earlier mitigation measures that we endured may have prevent hospital collapse and may have prevented deaths at the time, but they did nothing to end the pandemic and will do nothing to end it now. We are opening a new chapter in our history with this virus, one in which we have the medical tools to live alongside it.
To help the transition to post-pandemic life, I am issuing an executive order that will allow Americans access to free at-home rapid tests and am asking Congress to authorise a paid family leave program to allow workers time to convalesce when they are ill away from workplaces. I will flood federal resources to any area of the country that may see a surge in hospitalisations and I will invoke the Defense Production Act in order to mass produce COVID-19 treatments which I expect to be approved by the FDA in the coming weeks.
COVID will likely be with us for eternity. That does not mean the war is lost. Vaccines, therapeutics and treatments have and will continue to render the threat from this disease as minimal. We will aways have sone lives lost from this disease as we have and continue to have with others, and those deaths are indeed tragic, but will be minimised thanks to amazing advances in medical science.
As we move forward, let us take time to remember all those we lost during this pandemic, as well as all the heroes in the hospitals and on the field who helped save lives and keep us safe, those in the food industry from the meatpackers to the grocery workers to the delivery drivers who kept us fed and warm.
I want to leave you tonight with a story. During the course of this year, I became acquainted with Brian and Stephanie Borgestede, a young couple from Pleasantville, New York who are raising their three young kids, ages 5, 3 and 1, close to their parents and grandparents. They looked forward to having big family Christmases with their families so their children can experience the type of love and community Brian and Stephanie were raised with. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they did not have a big family Christmas last year. Stephanie said on her Facebook page on December 24, 2020 that “we are foregoing our big family Christmas this year for the good of everyone’s health and wellbeing and we know this sacrifice will lead to happier Christmases ahead.” They looked forward to a big family holiday this year. Sadly, in March, Brian was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given six months to live. Though he fought a fierce battle, his increasingly frail condition meant there were no family gatherings this year. Brian died on December 2, having never had the chance to celebrate the big family Christmas he and Stephanie had wanted.
Cancelling or postponing big life events for a few weeks or months is acceptable to most people, but for years, you are not promised tomorrow and the risk of them never happening is real, and while many of you may feel that weddings, birthdays, graduations, vacations to Disney, trivia nights, theatre tickets, concerts or Christmas gatherings are trivial things, for many of your fellow Americans, they are a big part of the lives we are trying to save. For what is a life is it is not lived, it’s just a mere existence and I will not ask any American to just exist, I want you to live. So today, I am telling you, it’s ok to live.
Thank you and may God bless you and your loved ones and may God Bless the United States of America.