President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk off stage after speaking in support of changing the Senate filibuster rules that have stalled voting rights legislation, at Atlanta University
( (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's take another perspective about the Biden administration's handling of the pandemic from Professor Steven Thrasher, a professor at Northwestern University and author of the forthcoming book, The Viral Underclass. Welcome back to The Takeaway, Steven.
Dr. Steven Thrasher: Thank you so much, Melissa. It's always a pleasure to talk to you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You let the Biden administration have it in your recent piece for The Guardian. Part of what you say is that the Biden ministration has failed its COVID test. Why is that your assessment?
Dr. Steven Thrasher: We've had an extremely vaccine-specific approach to the pandemic over the past year or so and the Biden ministration has really failed to look forward in ways that they should have. We're just now getting news that they're going to be home test sent, they've promised a billion, which is only three per American, that's not nearly enough. They're not going to start coming until next month. Now, it's great that they're creating a culture of testing. I think everyone should have these tests in their medicine cabinet like the thermometers so that they're always there for your use when you need it.
It is annoying that they're making it go through a website, they could have just sent them all through the postal service. They keep coming back to a sense of personal responsibility for everyone. Now, of course, it's important that people do get their vaccines, but even at a pretty high vaccination rate, we're still seeing lots of breakthrough cases. That doesn't mean the vaccines aren't working. They're doing part of what they're supposed to do, but they're just being bombarded by way too much virus to be as effective as they can be.
The Biden administration has failed to take other mitigating actions when they've needed to, they have really resisted shutting things down. Democratic and Republican governors and mayors around the country have resisted doing shutdowns, certainly paid lockdowns when we needed to have circuit breakers to let less virus come into being. Then they just really, really failed to look forward to the need to get these home tests to people before the holidays, and also to get high-quality masks.
I think Axios had a scoop last night that they said the Biden administration is going to start to give away masks, but they haven't yet. All of this needed to be plans last summer looking forward to when inevitably more virus would develop as people came indoors the other holidays, and they really failed to do that. They're acting completely retroactively right now.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes. I do want to confirm that story that you just mentioned, which is that the Biden administration is going to be making these KN95 and K95 masks available through pharmacies sort of part of that big stockpile that the government had. My dog is very excited about it, apparently. I also want to come on this question around the timing, and maybe particularly this kind of what you almost described as like a holiday stumble, right? It's basically right around the Thanksgiving holiday that we learn about Omicron and then it's somehow January before we respond, as though there was a sleepiness about it during the December holidays.
Dr. Steven Thrasher: There definitely was. They're just kind of playing catch up when we count on our public health professionals and government officials to be looking forward. It was always predictable from multiple social scientists about what vaccine hesitancy would be like and among all kinds of scientists that there were going to be mutations. We need them to look forward and they didn't do that. Even as they would Google, where do I find the tests? So many people simply could not find tests.
I had a cousin who waited online seven hours for a test. That's a poll tax of people's time when they're having to do that. Many people just simply could not find them. Many people can't get these masks. Again, I'm glad that they're finally going to make them available, but I was laughing about a story last night that my good friend, E. Tammy Kim wrote in the New York Times two full years ago almost, about how South Korea had been making these masks available to their population.
We've continuously had many advantages of time and money in the United States with this virus. If we would look to what countries were doing in Asia, from almost two years ago, we could see lots of the blueprints that we've failed to pick up. It's been particularly frustrating because more people have now died under the Biden administration than died under the Trump administration despite having the vaccine. It's been really disappointing that the administration that claims to follow the science is not doing so when it's going to cost money to business.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, Steve, I'm going to pause just on that one number. I will say the production team and I were digging into that number about the same number or more. There is a little bit of a challenge here around like apples to apples around timing, but there's certainly no doubt that over time, either the Biden administration there have been as many people who've died right now about the same number, or there will certainly be more because he's going to be president during COVID longer, but I get your point that he's also president during a time when we do have vaccines available. I'm wondering, part of what you really point to in this piece is this notion of social and economic divides. You remind us of the time around the HIV crisis as well, and this notion of who is hardest hit by this point of the pandemic.
Dr. Steven Thrasher: Yes, certainly, as Dr. Fauci was saying, he's been a central figure in the past four decades of AIDS research and the government's response to it. Something I come to often in my classes and my own thinking is how more people did die after HIV medications were available than before there were no medicines. The major point of that that I think is not an apples-to-apples blame, but a very lethal reminder that pharmacological interventions alone do not end pandemics, we have to deal with all kinds of other social things.
For people like myself who primarily work from home, it's great to have a home test. I'm glad that I'm able to order it online, I was able to help an elderly friend order it. The people who are actually doing face to face work, who had to go out and stand in those lines, they not only last time, they could have been earning money or resting from the kind of shift work they do. They're also being exposed again when they're going indoors into a testing site whereas the government could have sent tests to everyone and allowed people to test themselves at home before they gathered with families and friends.
Then one of the major things that we have to be concerned about is that incarceration is a major driver of this pandemic. The Biden administration and many Democratic mayors and governors have not reduced prison populations and jail populations, which are one of the reasons why so much virus keeps moving within them. Particularly with county jails, people going for short periods and then going back into the communities and taking the virus with them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, folks, do not miss that. More than 600,000 people are every single day released from American prisons and jails. If we're not controlling the virus in those places, we are not controlling the virus in our general population. Dr. Steven Thrasher is a professor at Northwestern University and author of The Viral Underclass that's coming out in August. As always, thanks for joining us, Steven.
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