Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy peppered White House press secretary Jen Psaki with questions Monday about the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response messaging and testing capacity.
Doocy pressed Psaki on why the administration hasn’t done more to increase the country’s testing capacity ahead of a “winter of severe illness and death,” as predicted by President Joe Biden. He also asked if Biden would update his messaging to reflect that vaccines aren’t preventing spread of COVID-19.
When asked why the administration was unprepared for an increased need for tests following the holidays, Psaki pointed to new testing sites opened by the administration and the tenfold increase in COVID-19 testing happening nationwide compared to one year ago.
“There has been a massive surge in cases … there has been an unprecedented demand for tests. So what we have done over the course of the last few weeks, even before that, is the president quadrupled our testing capacity since this summer, we opened 20,000 sites across the country, and we have also opened additional federal sites, including one in D.C. only recently,” she said.
“If you look to a year ago, there were no tests, or maybe one depending on the timeline, that was available on the market. Now we have nine. If you look to about a year ago, there was about 900,000 or maybe slightly higher tests that were being issued every day. Now we’re at about 10 or 11 million. 300 million tests are done in this country every month. So there’s enormous progress being made.”
Doocy then pointed out that the instructions coming from the White House on testing are contradictory to CDC guidance: “The tests you’re talking about though, require people to go somewhere and either make an appointment or wait in line. The CDC’s guidance is, if you think you have COVID you’re supposed to stay home,” he said. “You guys said you were gonna mail free tests to people that need them. The president’s there on television talking about a winter of severe illness and death. While he’s saying that publicly, why weren’t you guys doing more to prepare for the winter?
“Everyone decides where they’re going to go get a test,” Psaki answered. “We make a range of options available. You can also purchase tests online.”
While testing capacity has increased across the country, it has not kept up with demand, particularly in areas hit hard by Omicron. Lines have circled around blocks to get tested at public sites in many major cities, and it can take weeks to get a test shipped home from an online purchase. (RELATED: Journalist Who Works For MSNBC, The Independent Likens Biden’s COVID-19 Approach To Eugenics)
“The president talked about a winter of severe illness and death. At the rate you guys are going, these tests are not gonna be available until spring,” Doocy continued. “So will you admit that these free tests you guys promised are not gonna be ready until after the Omicron surge?”
“We’ll start to have tests out the door in the coming weeks, very soon. Again, that’s not the only place people can get tests,” Psaki reiterated. “There are a range of ways people can get tests, online, again, you’ll know more about how you can be reimbursed for those tests from here. Go to different sites, there are federal sites opening up all around the country.”
The Omicron surge in South Africa lasted around six weeks, with cases sharply falling after that point. Cases began to skyrocket in the United States in mid-December, and some experts believe the wave here could be on the decline by the end of January, if it follows a similar pattern seen in other countries.
Doocy then shifted to the Biden team’s plan to ship tests directly to Americans via the Postal Service.
“We understand that you guys plan to rely on the Postal Service to send out these free tests whenever they’re ready, but the Postal Service says they’re gonna have a staffing shortage because of your vaccine mandate,” Doocy said. “So would you pull back on the vaccine mandate if it meant getting people these free tests sooner?”
“The Postal Service also delivered 98, 99 percent of packages on time in advance of Christmas. And they also, their leaders also have said they’re eager to take on this challenge,” Psaki rebutted. “So we welcome that, and we’re looking forward to working with them to get these tests out to the public.”
Then came the sparring over messaging. The Biden team has continually called COVID-19 a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” but Doocy pointed out that while vaccines make it less likely someone will catch or spread the virus, they clearly can’t prevent it.
“The science says that vaccines prevent death. But, I’m triple-vaxxed, still got COVID. You’re triple-vaxxed, still got COVID. Why’s the president still referring to this as a pandemic of the unvaccinated?”
“I had been triple-vaxxed, I had minor symptoms. There is a huge difference between that and being unvaccinated,” Psaki explained. “You are 17 times more likely to go the hospital if you are not vaccinated, 20 times more likely to die. And those are significant, serious statistics, so yes the impact for people who are unvaccinated is far more dire than those who are vaccinated.”
“Will the president update his language at some time to be more reflective of the fact that people who are triple-vaccinated are catching and spreading COVID?” Doocy pressed. (RELATED: FLASHBACK: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Says COVID-19 Vaccine Can’t Stop Transmission)
“I think the president has said, as have we a number of times, that there will be breakthrough cases, there will be people who get COVID,” replied Psaki. “But there is a significant difference between being hospitalized or dying and being vaccinated with more mild symptoms.”
Lastly, Doocy included a question about COVID-19 misinformation coming from liberal justices on the Supreme Court: “You guys have been very aggressive countering COVID misinformation. So what do you guys think about COVID misinformation coming from the Supreme Court, and Sonia Sotomayor’s false claim that over 100,000 children are in serious condition, many on ventilators.”
Psaki dodged, saying she wouldn’t comment on the oral arguments at the court over the administration’s vaccine mandates, but that they believe they have a strong legal case.