By Chloe Yang
Much like a young couple in love, Biden’s approval ratings and the surge of the Delta variant seem impossible to separate, as the bond between the two statistics only strengthens with time. As the United States enters its fourth wave of COVID, Biden’s approval ratings sunk to a new low of 42 percent earlier this week as the Delta variant’s prevalence in the nation only continues to grow. In fact, currently, 99% of all COVID-19 cases in the US are delta variant cases.
The link between these two statistics are no mere coincidence. Rather, Biden’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis is a direct cause of his low approval ratings. At the beginning of his presidency, Biden’s steady handling of the pandemic helped boost his standing. During the first half of the year, there seemed to be hope that the pandemic would begin to recede. However, just months into the summertime, the Delta variant began rapidly spreading throughout the nation. The variant first emerged in India in December of 2020 and infamously wreaked havoc in the country, leading to a massive second wave and over 430,000 official deaths (most experts believe this is a severe undercount and even put the number as high as 3 to 5 million). But soon after, the variant spread to Great Britain and eventually the United States.
Specifically, the Delta variant is much more dangerous than its previous counterparts because it is nearly twice as contagious as other variants and has been proven to be more likely to put the infected in the hospital. Those who are unvaccinated are at the highest risk, with the highest concentration of the variant in the US being in areas with lower rates of vaccination. Yet despite Biden’s once-successful handling of the pandemic, in September—as the Delta variant surged through the nation— for the first time, more voters disapproved of Biden’s handling of the crisis than those who approved of it.
With the Biden administration once promising efficiency in their COVID-19 response, voters are growing disenchanted with the skyrocketing infections. In July, the Delta variant quickly grew to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US. Due to a lack of action at both the national and state level, the variant was much more destructive than the Biden administration had expected, with President Biden branding it as a “largely preventable tragedy”. Over the summer, for instance, many southern states were facing ICU bed shortages, with five states having less than 10 percent of their ICU bed capacity remaining.
Biden’s response to the Delta variant was also complicated by political motivations as well. With much of the American economy having been shut down since March 2020, Biden was hopeful about gradually releasing restrictions to allow the economy to begin it’s recovery. However, the conflicting advice from advisory agencies has confused both the president and American citizens. The CDC, for example, has changed their stance on wearing a mask numerous times within just the past year. This led to White House officials and CDC advisors often touting conflicting ideas, muddying the rules that citizens were meant to follow.
Additionally, booster shots are another point of contention between the White House and it’s federal agencies. Biden, a strong proponent of allowing all adults to receive a booster shot, did not share the same beliefs as his advisors. After the president steamrolled ahead in creating a booster program (without reviewing with the FDA), Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, two vaccine regulators at the FDA, submitted resignations in September largely due to their frustration with the Biden administration's negligence.
However, this has not quelled the Biden administration's hopes of expanding vaccine booster availability. Recently, the CDC even approved booster shots for adolescents from 16 to 18 years old, with the CDC strongly encouraging booster shots for all amid fears of the spreading of the new Omicron variant.
If Biden does not act quickly to keep the Delta variant in check, it stands to threaten his ambitious economic agenda. In the beginning of September, Biden unveiled a plan to combat the surge of the delta variant. Among the provisions of his plan were mandates for vaccinations for federal workers, contractors, health care workers, and more. His plan also contains recommendations on how to keep schools open.
But although Biden has been relatively wary about any binding, overarching mandates for all Americans, it seems to be the most foolproof solution to beat the surge. It is well within Biden’s presidential power to do so: vaccine requirements for children in school began in the 1850s. With 45% of all unvaccinated Americans saying they definitely will not get the jab, a mandate may be the only way for America to conceivably achieve herd immunity. With the CDC showing that the unvaccinated are nearly 11 times as likely as vaccinated people to contract Covid-19, a vaccine mandate may be the best way forward. By implementing a mandate on vaccination, people still will have the ability to refuse a vaccine, but their involvement in public and social life will be severely limited, incentivizing them to get the vaccine.
Currently, the Biden administration has begun exploring this path. Earlier this fall, President Biden issued an executive order that would mandate companies with over 100 workers to require vaccination among their employees. This plan is estimated to affect nearly 100 million Americans and around 66% of the workforce. However, this mandate has stalled in federal court and has faced significant amounts of pushback and controversy. Namely, the attorney generals from numerous states have banded together to challenge the legality of the executive order. On the other hand, scientists as a whole generally welcome a stronger vaccine push from the Biden administration as the virus becomes endemic in the nation. As Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University in Atlanta puts it: “It’s part of the shift from short-term reactions to long-term solutions.”
It may be a while before the threat of the Delta variant begins to subside and with the Omicron variant already on the rise, COVID-19 will certainly linger for much longer. Thus, the Biden administration must actively work to combat the variant for the sake of the nation’s overall economic and social recovery. It’s time for the US and Delta’s breakup.