President Biden hailed employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “frontline troops” in the war against the coronavirus pandemic and said they “changed attitudes” about what the U.S. can do as a country.
“We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude,” Mr. Biden said at CDC headquarters in Atlanta. “This is a war, and you are the frontline troops.”
The president drew an implicit contrast with former President Donald Trump, who boasted about his “natural ability” for science during a visit to the Atlanta headquarters early in the pandemic last year.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” Mr. Biden said. “There is an entire generation coming up that is learning from what you’ve done.”
Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke after receiving a briefing on the pandemic from agency experts.
CDC scientists said the fast-moving “U.K.” variant of the virus could become dominant by the end of March, while a separate strain in the New York area seems to diminish the power of monoclonal antibody treatments.
In another veiled swipe at his predecessor, Mr. Biden said “walls” cannot stop global pathogens.
“We cannot stop these viruses, other than be aware where they are and move quickly on them when we find them,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris visited hours after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky released revised guidance saying school children could sit 3 feet apart in reopened classrooms instead of 6 feet, so long as everyone is masked. The distancing rules had been a key impediment to reopening schools.
“You’re making difficult decisions right now,” Ms. Harris told CDC workers. “But you’re making these decisions based on science.”
“You’re doing this work on behalf of people you will never meet,” she said. “On behalf of people who will never know your names — because you care about our country and their well-being, so we’re here to thank you.”
Dr. Walensky thanked the president and vice president for “reinvigorating us.”
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