September 20, 2022, WASHINGTON - In response to President Biden's declaration on 60 Minutes that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), released the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), and the wider Reform Movement Institutions:
"We are disheartened by President Biden's statement on 60 Minutes that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The President of the United States has a unique responsibility to communicate with nuance about the true extent of problems facing the country, but President Biden's declaration minimizes the continued threat of COVID-19 and undermines a robust public health response.
"Although there is no clear consensus about what constitutes the end of a pandemic, COVID-19 poses an ongoing danger to the United States. Despite the introduction of vaccines and treatments, the United States still experiences nearly 400 deaths, 4,000 new hospitalizations, and 55,000 new reported cases per day. Aided by fading public health protections, the sustained spread of COVID-19 places marginalized communities, especially immunocompromised people and people with disabilities, at heightened risk of severe illness and death, particularly as individual protective measures alone are often insufficient. At the same time, everyone who contracts COVID-19 risks developing Long COVID, regardless of vaccination status, health profile, or severity of infection. Indeed, Long COVID already affects 16 million U.S. adults and has forced up to 4 million people out of the workforce. Continued harm from COVID-19 is not inevitable, and we must not accept this needless devastation as our new normal.
"Declaring an end to the pandemic also undercuts critical public health response measures, including the White House's own request to Congress for $22.4 billion in emergency COVID-19 funding and the rollout of an updated booster campaign. We are concerned that President Biden's statement represents an abdication of responsibility on behalf of the federal government, even as the Omicron variant and its BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants remain highly contagious. Further, allowing the virus to spread increases the likelihood that a more severe variant will develop. At this critical inflection point ahead of a projected fall and winter surge, the government must mitigate COVID-19 rather than downplay its scope.
"Jewish tradition teaches that 'You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it' (Pirkei Avot 2:21). Addressing the pandemic requires cooperation among the White House, Congress, state and local governments, and the American public - and President Biden's declaration, whether premeditated or off the cuff, is not an effective strategy. We urge President Biden and all elected officials to provide decisive moral leadership to confront COVID-19."
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 850 congregations across North America encompass 1.8 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit RAC.org for more.