Obama, Clinton, Psaki cases show COVID-19’s lingering threat

COVID-19 is hitting Washington hard again — at least when it comes to boldfaced names.  

Former President Obama tested positive last week, saying he had a scratchy throat for a couple of days. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff separately announced he had developed symptoms and contracted the coronavirus.  

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said that she was positive with the coronavirus. She said she was only experiencing mild cold symptoms and credited her vaccination shots, urging others to get them and the booster shot.

On the same day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she had to skip President Biden’s trip to Brussels and Warsaw because of her second encounter with the virus.  

While COVID-19 cases have declined in the Beltway since a massive wave in early January — a trend that mimics what other communities across the country are seeing — the cases among prominent politicos show the pandemic is still looming in the backdrop of official Washington and beyond. And a new omicron variant known as BA.2 poses yet another threat to Americans with cases growing in parts of the northeast.  

It’s caught people’s attention, who wonder if Obama’s and Clinton’s positive cases are something of a tipping point to a new wave. 

“The amount of public figures testing positive recently is notable, affluent vaccinated/boosted people surrounded by more of the same,” Eric Schultz, a hospitalist at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Not sure how worried I am yet about the severity of the next wave, but this seems like a convincing signal that something is coming.” 

In recent weeks, the pandemic hasn’t been as front and center as it once was. The world is now much more focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Washington, the Russian war and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson have been the big news. 

People are tired of the pandemic and the restrictions put in place to lower its spread.  

Mask mandates around the country have ended, and the airline industry is pushing for an end to masking in airports and on airplanes as soon as next month. At Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this month, lawmakers attended without wearing masks.  

Even inside the White House, a mask requirement has been dropped for aides and visitors. Social distancing is also a thing of the past inside the executive mansion.  

Families with small children still cannot get their youngest kids vaccinated. But those families got some good news this week when Moderna announced that its two-dose vaccine was safe to use in young children, toddlers and infants. It plans to submit data to the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks to get approval. 

That could leave millions more people feeling better about interacting with people and not fearing they could be bringing the coronavirus back to young children at home. 

Both the fall in cases and the very real pandemic fatigue among voters have been challenging for Democrats, who feel they need to do a delicate dance around the tricky politics of COVID-19.

They point to last year’s gubernatorial race in New Jersey — where the Democratic incumbent, Phil Murphy, came close to losing — as proof that they could end up on the wrong side of the issue.  

“The science is the same, but the politics are different,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “I don’t think you’re going to see aggressive public health restrictions come back especially as we get closer to the midterms.”  

“I think we’re in a different phase,” he added.  

Still, the administration knows it can’t let down its guard when it comes to the ongoing virus, Democrats acknowledge.  

The president has been on the receiving end of criticism for declaring “independence” from the coronavirus last year. And as omicron cases grew around the holiday season last year, he was repeatedly asked about the lack of coronavirus tests before millions of Americans planned holiday gatherings.  

“We can’t afford to let this kick us in the ass if it comes up again,” one Democratic strategist said. “There have been a few questionable moments and I hope the administration learned their lesson.” 

Payne and others pointed to an administration that will likely telegraph more subtle cues to Americans in the months ahead.  

The Biden administration could offer a second COVID-19 booster shot for adults 65 and older in the near future, two sources said. And Biden, who is 79, could do a photo-op to set the standard, some Democrats say.  

Behind the scenes, the White House has also been pushing Congress to provide emergency funding totaling at least $22.5 billion in order to purchase additional COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and to restock other pandemic essentials.

“The consequences of congressional inaction are severe and they are immediate,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing.

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said the administration needs “to continue to do what they have been doing, which is letting changing facts and science guide their plans.”  

“The easiest thing for short-term political gain would just be to un-do every rule and say, ‘Hooray, it’s over,’ but it’s not,” Vale continued. “So letting facts drive the plans rather than the other way around is both the right policy to protect people’s lives but also the longer-term right political move for governing responsibly.” 

Tags Barack Obama Coronavirus COVID-19 Doug Emhoff FDA Food and Drug Adminisration Hillary Clinton Jeff Zients Jen Psaki Joe Biden Ketanji Brown Jackson Phil Murphy Russia Ukraine
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