A bipartisan group of governors told President Joe Biden that the country needs to “move away from the pandemic,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at the White House Monday.
“There’s a number of areas that we have full agreement on, and that is one: We need to move away from the pandemic,” the Republican told reporters outside the West Wing, “and we asked the President to help give us clear guidelines on how we can return to a greater state of normality.”
The governor said the group wanted to “partner with the administration” in order to “move beyond the pandemic.”
While there is more optimism that the worst of the pandemic is ending, the US daily average of cases remains near 500,000, averaging more than 1,000 deaths per day, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly all counties in the US are experiencing high transmission of Covid-19.
A reporter asked Hutchinson how the US could move away from the pandemic when Covid hospitalizations were at an all-time high.
“Obviously, you can’t move away from a virus that’s still there. You can’t control that,” he said, but added that “people are striving for more normal life.”
“I think we’ve moved to that very quickly, Hutchinson continued, “but we need to have the guidelines very clear as to how you actually structurally move from the pandemic state of things to an endemic where you’re managing this virus like you would other illnesses in our country.”
He added there were “probably better measuring sticks” of how the country is faring than case counts of Covid-19, “which is hospitalizations, but how about the hospitalizations that are really caused by Covid.” He said he believed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were “working on giving us the right standards for that.”
During remarks at a White House meeting with the National Governor’s Association earlier Monday morning, the President said that the US still has a lot progress to make on tamping down Covid-19 before a return to normal life.
“We’ve got a way to go on that, in my view, but we’re moving,” Biden said in reference to ending the pandemic.
“It’s all about making sure we have the same standards we’re applying across the board,” he said, adding that his administration would “try like the devil to keep schools open.”
During the White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki said Hutchinson’s comments don’t represent a “disconnect” from the White House’s perspective.
“The President’s view is that right now, we still need to keep our heads down and stay at it, to fight what is still, you know, surging in parts of the country, but we do have the tools to get to a point where it does not disrupt our daily lives,” Psaki said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who also attended the meeting, added there was a “lot of good discussion about what does the road from pandemic to endemic look like? How do we keep score?”
Hutchinson said the group raised the issue with cabinet members, including specifically White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, as well as Biden himself.
“He recognizes … that we’re moving in the right direction,” Hutchinson said of Biden.
Ahead of the meeting at the White House, Biden plugged the federal funding states have received from the American Rescue Plan.
“We’ve sent you a whole hell of a lot of money,” the President said, “and we’re gonna send you more if you keep using it as well as you have.”
Biden said he has “made it clear” that some of the funds should be used “to fight violent crime,” and pushed states to hire “additional police officers,” and to invest in community violence interventions.
He also said the country needs to “do more” for essential workers to keep them on the job.
“That can mean, as some of you used, hero retention bonuses, higher pay temporary, paid leave to combat burnout and essential health care workers,” Biden said.
Speaking before Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris renewed her push for voting rights legislation, telling the group that “regardless of who we voted for in the last election, we all as leaders of our nation understand the importance of ensuring that all people who are eligible to vote have an ability and a meaningful ability to vote and access to the ballot.”
“So I would ask that in this coming year, we work together to ensure that all Americans who are eligible to vote actually have meaningful access to the ballot,” Harris said.