President Joe Biden conceded Monday that his administration has not done enough to ramp up COVID-19 testing across the country, after going on the defense a week earlier in response to questions about the lack of testing in the face of the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
On a call with many of the country’s governors and his COVID-19 response team, Biden acknowledged the testing shortage impacting states. The president spoke about how the country went from no over-the-counter tests in January – when he took office — to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December.
“But it’s clearly not enough. If we’d have known, we’d have gone harder, quicker if we could have,” Biden said. “We have to do more, we have to do better, and we will. … Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do.”
Biden added that the administration has also worked with Google “so you can now search ‘COVID test near me’ to find one,” and reaffirmed that the federal government is distributing 500 million at-home rapid tests for free to Americans who want one. He also said that the administration will continue to use the Defense Production Act to produce more tests.
Biden’s message on Monday was a stark contrast from last week in response to the nationwide COVID-19 testing shortage. When asked by a reporter what his message is to Americans who are unable to get tested and are wondering what took so long to escalate the response, Biden said, “Come on, what took so long?”
“Well, what took so long is ― it didn’t take long at all. What happened was the omicron [variant] spread even more rapidly than anybody thought,” he said.
“If I had told you four weeks ago that this would spread by ― a day-to-day basis it would spread by 50, 100%, 200%, 500%, I think you would have looked at me and said, ‘Biden, what are you drinking?’ But that’s what it did,” he continued. “Now, we don’t know what’s going to happen from here. … But I do know that we’re not going to be in a position, like I said when we ― remember we were having a problem with masks and gowns and the like? I said, ‘I promise you.’”
The change in response comes after a Dec. 23 report by Vanity Fair revealed that the Biden administration rejected a plan this fall to ramp up testing ahead of the holidays. A group of COVID-19 testing experts presented a strategy on Oct. 22 to the administration that called for producing an estimated 732 million tests per month and distributing them for free to Americans, according to a 10-page plan the publication obtained.
On Dec. 22, Biden told David Muir of ABC News that he wished he “had thought about ordering” 500 million at-home tests “two months ago” — but the plan Vanity Fair said was presented to the administration in October did just that.
The testing experts who presented the strategy were told by the White House just days after the proposal that their plan was dead, according to the publication. The same day, the administration instead announced an initiative to move rapid at-home tests faster through the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory approval process.
When asked about the report on Monday, Biden said his administration “didn’t reject” the plan.