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President Joe Biden sending mixed message on COVID-19 response? Utah GOP congressman thinks so

President Biden participates in the White House COVID-19 Response Team’s regular call with the National Governors Association.
President Joe Biden participates in the White House COVID-19 Response Team’s regular call with the National Governors Association in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Washington.
Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

One Utah congressman says the Biden administration continues to send mixed messages on the nation’s fight against COVID-19, now surging in many parts of the country because of the highly infectious omicron variant.

Speaking Monday before the start of a virtual meeting with some of the nation’s governors, President Joe Biden said, “There is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level.”

At the same time, Biden has issued vaccine-or-test mandates for private companies with more than 100 employees, federal contractors and Medicaid and Medicare providers. Republican-controlled states, including Utah, businesses and religious groups are challenging those requirements in court.

“The Biden administration continues to give the American people mixed messaging on our COVID-19 response, and we are seeing the adverse effects of President Biden’s sweeping federal mandates,” Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, told the Deseret News in a statement Tuesday.

“We need to provide our local and state leadership teams with evidence-based guidance from which they can make public health decisions that best serve the needs of their communities.”

Biden on Monday pledged to support governors struggling with the omicron variant of COVID-19, but acknowledged the states will need to take the lead in controlling the pandemic.

“My message to the governors is simple. If you need something, say something,” the president said. “We’re going to have your back any way we can.”

COVID-19, a state issue

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who has been highly critical of the White House response to the pandemic, said while states have appreciated the support from the federal government, at the end of the day, the governor’s office, mayors and community leaders are best equipped to manage the situation.

“In Utah, our state and local officials have done wonders to keep people safe without draconian measures. Our schools are well managed, unemployment is low, our budget is at a surplus, and we have new residents moving in from other states,” he said in a statement.

“I am glad to see President Biden recognizing that state governments should be leading the way when it comes to addressing concerns surrounding COVID-19.”

Biden’s comments are the most pointed acknowledgements to date that the administration will need help from state and local governments in its efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

Are Republican or Democratic states better at tackling COVID-19?

Moore suggested Republican-led states have figured out a better model for fighting the pandemic than Democrat-led states.

“Red states that are embracing a federalist model in their approach to COVID-19 are experiencing healthier economies and empowering their citizens to make informed choices that are best for them and their families, as opposed to blue states that are buckling under strict mandates,” he said. “As we continue to fight COVID-19, we need to empower our community leaders to make tailored decisions that keep Utahns safe and help our economy rebound.”

But a recent analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University showed people who live in states that voted for former President Donald Trump are at a 50% higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Republican politicians have criticized Biden for not getting the virus under control, while opposing vaccine and mask mandates meant to slow down the disease.

Omicron is surging nationwide while Biden’s approvals slip

Continued struggles with the delta variant and the emergence of the rapidly moving omicron variant have pushed the country’s daily case totals to their highest levels since late summer, according to the New York Times.

The omicron strain, which spreads much faster than previous versions of the virus but may be milder, is surging in the Northeast and Washington, D.C. Vaccinated people without booster shots are believed to be vulnerable to the new variant.

Biden campaigned on the federal government’s ability to tackle the coronavirus.

In March before the delta variant took hold, 72% of Americans approved of how the president has handled the pandemic. But an ABC News-Ipsos poll released Sunday shows his approval has dipped to 53%, as the omicron variant surges.

Biden reiterated Monday a promise he made last week that the federal government would buy 500 million rapid coronavirus tests. The administration plans to distribute the tests free to Americans and support more vaccination and testing sites, which are being plagued by long lines.

Moore applauded the administration for securing the at-home testing kits creating thousands more testing centers across the country, and supplying the necessary hospital equipment for health care providers assisting patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

“I believe critical tools like these will help us move past the virus,” he said.

But, Moore said, he strongly opposes vaccine mandates for business and federal contractors.

“It simply won’t have the effect for which President Biden is hoping, and it will cause significant problems in our economy and workforce. It’s the wrong approach,” he said.

Rather than imposing mandates, Moore said people need to continue to effectively communicate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and encourage those who are able to get inoculated in order to better protect themselves and their loved ones.

“I remain supportive of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I encourage everyone to consult with their healthcare provider — rather than politicians, online outlets or word-of-mouth — for information about the best strategy to stay healthy from the virus,” he said.