by Cooper Bowen
On Mar. 11, in his first-ever prime-time White House address, President Joe Biden outlined a path forward for the United States as vaccination rates rise and coronavirus cases plateau. In a half-hour speech that was at times profoundly sorrowful, the President spoke candidly to a nation reeling from over half a million coronavirus deaths and that has endured nearly a year in some form of lockdown.
Dressed in a black suit and a solemn silver and black striped tie, Biden’s demeanor carefully reflected the gravity of the date; notably, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic exactly one year prior to his address. At one point, the President explained that he carries with him a piece of paper with the total number of American coronavirus deaths as of each morning. Pulling that folded piece of paper from his pocket, Biden proceeded to read the current U.S. coronavirus death toll: 527,726.
Walking a fine line between caution and optimism, Biden both urged state officials to retain pandemic restrictions and offered listeners a glimpse of a COVID-free future. Towards the end of his address, the President established what a month ago may have appeared to be an unattainable goal: “If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July 4th there’s a good chance you, your families, and your friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.” This would be a day, Biden vowed, “Where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”
To accomplish this objective, the President outlined a five-step roadmap to recovery. He began by promising that “all American adults will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1.” Biden explained that this would be possible as the country, with the assistance of his administration, ramped up vaccine distribution beyond the current pace of 2.5 million shots per day, already double the rate when he took office. Second, the President noted that the federal government would be introducing tools, including a new website, to streamline and simplify the process of obtaining a vaccination appointment. With the continuous vaccination of teachers and school staff, Biden also committed to “[accelerating a] massive nationwide effort to reopen our schools safely” and ensure the opening of a majority of K-8 schools in his first 100 days. He continued with a promise that his administration would issue further guidance about what Americans can and can’t do when they are fully vaccinated; this, he hopes, will encourage even more eligible individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Finally, the President vowed: “I will not relent until we beat this virus — but I need you.”
The American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law that very morning, fully funds all five steps of his recovery plan. The President spoke briefly about the contents and benefits of the historic, highly-popular bill, but did not linger on the details. Notably, he mentioned that both he and Vice President Kamala Harris would be traveling the country over the next several months to speak directly to the American people about the bill and what it means for them.
Biden concluded his speech with a somber message of unity: “We are bound together by the loss and the pain of the days that have gone by. But we’re also bound together by the hope and the possibilities of the days in front of us.”
With experts predicting that the United States will not reach herd immunity until mid-summer at the earliest, there remains a long road ahead for both the nation and Biden’s administration. His address, however, offered a brief but encouraging glimmer of hope for a nation that has gone so long without it.
Read a transcript of Biden’s speech here.