The Biden administration is once again on the defensive as the pandemic cuts its wildly unpredictable course, upending American lives with the holidays around the corner and the tools that could make for safer gathering -- widespread, easily available testing -- in short supply nearly two years into the crisis. The Omicron variant, which may more easily evade vaccines, accounted for 73% of coronavirus cases in the US last week, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates posted Monday.
It hit close to home on Monday evening, when the White House revealed that a mid-level staff member who is "a close contact" of the President tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday morning after spending about 30 minutes "in proximity to the President on Air Force One" on Friday. Biden received a negative test on Monday and was continuing with his daily schedule, with plans to take another test on Wednesday. In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that the aide was fully vaccinated and boosted and had tested negative before the flight. Biden will address the nation on Tuesday about his plans for fighting the virus at a time when testing lines lengthen around the country and many anxious Americans weigh whether to cancel Christmas travel plans. Biden hopes to balance a tone of caution about the threat of the fast-moving new variant -- reinforcing the need for more Americans to get vaccinated and boosted -- with notes of reassurance that the nation is much better equipped to handle a potential winter surge than it was just a year ago.