Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 coordinator, predicted Tuesday that the United States will not be heading toward another Covid-19 surge driven by holiday gatherings akin to the Omicron wave in 2021.
“We are in a very different place and we will remain in a different place,” said Jha, who noted that roughly 90% of Americans have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine and “a large chunk of Americans have gotten infected.”
Jha, who was speaking at the STAT Summit in Boston, added the caveat that there’s always a possibility the virus could significantly mutate – like it did with the Omicron variant – but “I believe we are in a way better place no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.”
Jha also emphasized that the concept of major Covid-19 restrictions are largely off the table at this stage in the pandemic.
“We are now at a point where I believe if you’re up to date on your vaccines, you have access to treatments … there really should be no restrictions on people’s activities,” Jha said. “I’m pretty much living life the way I was living life in 2019.”
The remarks underscore the White House’s ongoing efforts to transition away from framing the Covid-19 pandemic as an ongoing emergency. Just two months ago, President Biden told reporters the pandemic is “over.” (Jha did not declare the pandemic over, however; he insisted that “too many people are still getting sick and dying.”)
Despite Jha’s confidence, there are signs that the United States is under-prepared for another winter surge, and that new variants of the virus are evading existing Covid-19 treatments.While Jha largely downplayed the continuing toll of the pandemic, he declined to predict when the Biden administration will end the ongoing public health emergency, which will have sweeping implications for everything from the availability of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments approved under FDA emergency use authorization to who can stay on Medicaid. Instead, he reiterated that the Biden administration will give a 60-day notice before ending the emergency.
“It’s a decision that the [health] secretary makes,” Jha said. “The secretary will make that determination when he believes that the tools that the [emergency] gives us are no longer necessary for protecting American lives.”