President Joe Biden has seemingly been unable to uphold his promises on providing a substantial number of COVID-19 tests as Americans wait in hour-long lines for testing during the holiday season.
To combat the surge of cases and long wait times for COVID testing, the president announced plans on Monday to purchase 500 million at-home rapid testing kits that will become available for Americans to freely purchase on a website starting in January. However, the president has yet to sign a contract to purchase tests and information on how quickly the tests will arrive is unknown, the New York Times reported.
In New York City alone, 18 public hospitals had wait times of over an hour, the Guardian reported.
ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir pressed Biden on Wednesday about the lack of testing available before the holidays.
“Three days before Christmas, if you look out across the country, you see it everywhere, these long lines, people waiting for hours outside in the cold, just to get tested, to be reassured before they spend time with their family,” Muir pressed. “If you go to the pharmacy, we hear this over and over again, empty shelves, no test kits. Is that a failure?”
“I don’t think it’s a failure,” the president replied. “I think it’s—you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago…I wish I had thought about ordering ‘500 million at-home tests’ two months ago.”
Since his presidency began, Biden has promised to ramp up testing in a Jan. 22 briefing that outlined his COVID-19 National Strategy, which promised “a war footing to aggressively speed up our COVID-19 response, especially on vaccines and testing and reopening our schools.” (RELATED: Biden Says COVID Rapid Testing Shortage Not His Administration’s Fault Because Latest Variant Was Such A Surprise)
In a Feb. 17 statement, the president announced a series of new actions to expand COVID-19 testing and ‘better prepare for the threat of new variants.” His plan involved the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Department of Defense (DOD), investing $650 million to expand testing in schools and “underserved congregate settings.”
“HHS will establish regional coordinating centers to organize the distribution of COVID-19 testing supplies and partner with laboratories across the country, including universities and commercial labs, to collect specimens, perform tests, and report results to the relevant public health agencies,” the briefing said.
The plan also announced an investment of $815 million to increase manufacturing of testing supplies such as filter pipette tips, nitrocellulose under in antigen point-of-care tests and molded plastics for home testing kits.
A month after the briefing on March 11, Biden continued promising to “combine to work on making at-home testing available” and set the vaccination date for all individuals 18 and over to May 1. In early-July, Biden made the same promises of expanding testing with the rise of the highly transmissible and contagious Delta variant.
“We’re going to deploy things like testing to expand detection of the virus, medicines to help treat the infected, and we’re going to provide federal personnel to fill gaps in staffing, and technical experts to help investigate outbreaks-because they’re going to happen in states with very low vaccination rates,” he said in his July 6 address.
In a major Sept. 9 speech, the president said that the U.S. had “failed to do enough Covid testing.” To ramp up the efforts, he announced his plan to “use the Defense Production Act to increase production of rapid tests,” ensure that major retailers provide at-home testing kits in a three month period, and purchase 300 million rapid tests for Americans free of charge.
Biden made similar promises in a Dec. 2 speech announcing his COVID-19 Action Plan for the upcoming winter season, where cases and hospitalizations are expected to rise. The plan promises free at-home tests and the deployment of a hundred more vaccinators and sites.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who served on Biden’s COVID advisory team, told the Guardian that the accessibility of vaccines led to the belief that testing was unnecessary.
“Everyone thought testing was going to be unnecessary, and we sort of had neglect, which turned out not to be benign,” Emanuel said, according to the outlet.