WASHINGTON — “We need to move away from the pandemic,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday outside the West Wing, shortly after the group he heads, the National Governors Association, met with President Biden at the White House.
“We asked the president to help give us clear guidelines on how we can return to a great state of normality,” Hutchinson, a Republican, added.
Standing beside Hutchinson was Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, the Democratic vice chair of the NGA who was recently reelected by a razor-thin margin. Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that moving too slowly to emerge from the pandemic could cost them in November’s midterm elections.
“We’re not going to manage this to zero. We have to learn how to live with this,” Murphy said during a Sunday appearance on “Meet the Press,” becoming the latest Democratic elected official to move away from the caution-first approach that has marked the party’s pandemic response for more than two years.
In December, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado refused to implement a new statewide mask mandate, declaring “the end of the medical emergency.” And in New York City, Democratic Mayor Eric Adams has insisted on keeping the city open. “We are tired of being prisoners to COVID, so let’s be smart,” Adams said earlier this month.
“We are seeing a sea change in Democratic politics,” Dr. Jay Battacharya, a Stanford professor who has been critical of safety restrictions like school closures and mask mandates, told Yahoo News.
Recent polling suggests that Americans are looking to move on from the stringent measures imposed to fight COVID-19. A Monmouth survey released Monday found that 70 percent of Americans believe “it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.”
Hutchinson has struck a moderate tone on fighting COVID, saying that he regretted signing a ban on mask mandates in schools. Other prominent Republican governors, such as Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, have insisted on banning mask mandates in their states.
“Obviously, you can’t move away from a virus that’s still there,” Hutchinson acknowledged on Monday.
Although the Omicron wave appears to be waning, a new variant could complicate matters — even if it may ultimately not temper the impatience of many Americans to travel, gather and take off their masks.
“People are striving for a more normal life,” Hutchinson said. Murphy said the governors had “a good discussion” regarding “the road from pandemic to endemic,” at which point the coronavirus will not require stringent measures.
Biden first declared on July 4 that “independence” from the coronavirus was imminent. Since then, two surges have frustrated his promise to bring the pandemic under control. His administration has remained cautious, even as it has shown increased awareness that the current state of affairs is not tenable for much longer.
“This is not the new normal, what we’re living in, in this moment,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said just a few minutes later at a briefing. She also made clear, however, that the current moment would persist. “The president’s view is that right now we still need to keep our heads down and stay at it,” she said.