President Joe Biden put responsibility for ending the coronavirus pandemic on state governments, admitting "there is no federal solution" to the Omicron variant during a White House COVID-19 briefing with the National Governors Association.
The White House's COVID-19 task force held its 40th call with the NGA on Monday, with the president addressing about 25 state governors virtually before hosting a closed-door question-and-answer session on the federal response to the virus.
Speaking ahead of the president, NGA Chairman Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, thanked Biden for his administration's efforts but raised concerns that the federal plan to increase testing capacity with a half-billion at-home COVID-19 tests could interfere with "the supply chain for solutions we might offer as governor."
In response, Biden said that state governments are ultimately responsible for fighting the Omicron variant by getting people vaccinated, including with booster shots.
"Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level," the president said. "And then ultimately gets down to where the rubber meets the road, and that's where the patient is in need of help or preventing the need for help."
"As I said last week, Omicron is a source of concern but it should not be a source of panic," Biden reiterated. "If you're fully vaccinated, you get your booster shot and you're highly protected. If you're unvaccinated, you're at a high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, being hospitalized, and in rare cases even dying."
He said that if governors need federal help, they must "say something," summarizing the actions his administration has taken to follow through with his coronavirus response plan.
Last week, Biden announced a federal plan to provide 500 million at-home rapid tests that will be given to Americans for free. But the government was unable to deliver those tests before holiday travel began, and hundreds of flights were canceled over the weekend as airline staff tested positive for the virus.
The president did concede that demand for COVID-19 testing has so far outstripped his administration's ability to provide testing kits, acknowledging that the sight of long testing lines over Christmas weekend "shows that we have more work to do."
"The bottom line is I want to assure the American people that we're prepared," Biden said. "We know what it takes, and as this group of bipartisan governors has shown, we're gonna get through by working together."
Biden's remarks were immediately criticized by the Republican National Committee, which pointed out that as a presidential candidate, Biden promised to "shut down the virus" and now says there is no federal solution to do so.