But the Biden White House is seeing new infections climb on its own watch — a potential crisis that could erase many of the hard-won gains of the president’s first 75 days, should the numbers keep rising. After railing for a year about the last administration’s response and vowing a more muscular strategy, Biden is encountering the limits of his own authority. The president can help secure and distribute supplies and medicines, issue guidance and urge caution — but like President Donald Trump before him, he has few tools when governors decide to lift coronavirus protections at the wrong moment, manufacturers botch vaccine production, or Americans refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated.
“We need you to spread the word,” Biden told faith leaders last week, saying he was worried about Americans becoming “cavalier” about the virus. “They’re going to listen to your words more than they are me as president of the United States.”
Biden also has no more sway than Trump over a mutating virus that scientists have only begun to understand. The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day national average of coronavirus cases is more than 65,000 new cases per day, an 19 percent uptick since the middle of last month, even as many states drop public health restrictions and new variants spread. More than 146,000 new cases were reported on Thursday and Friday, the highest two-day count in several weeks, according to state data tracked by The Post. The B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, which has been shown to be more contagious and lethal than the original “wild” virus, is now the most common lineage in the United States, administration officials said Wednesday.
After three coronavirus surges under Trump, most experts say a “fourth wave” is unlikely given the accelerating pace of vaccinations and the number of Americans who have acquired natural immunity after being infected by the virus. But the trends have alarmed some public health experts, who are calling on Biden to adopt strategies to speed up shots or take a harder line with states relaxing restrictions. On Tuesday, the president announced he was moving up the deadline for all adults to be eligible for vaccines to April 19, although that doesn’t guarantee they will be able to be inoculated right away.
“Let me be deadly earnest with you,” Biden said during the announcement. “We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life-and-death race against this virus.”
Public health experts say the president has benefited from good policy, as well as good luck. Virus cases, which spiked in mid-January, began to recede before Inauguration Day. Biden’s team also spent months studying Trump’s stumbles, while figuring out how to build on his successes, such as exercising contract options negotiated by the Trump administration to produce vaccine supply and avoiding unrealistic promises that could disappoint Americans.
“They benefited from Operation Warp Speed. They benefited from the variants coming in late and not supercharging what was a pretty destructive surge” in the winter, said J. Stephen Morrison, who oversees global health policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And they benefited from the six months they had in planning their response out, beginning in July 2020, and then making it a top priority and executing with a great amount of speed this year.”
Nearly three-quarters of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, including almost half of Republicans, according to an AP-NORC poll last week. Biden’s poll numbers are well ahead of his predecessor’s, with most Americans before November’s…