The Year the Pandemic "Ended" (Part III)

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a 2022 CDC Briefing

This piece has been adapted from Covid Year Three, an episode of Death Panel released earlier this month. It presents an incomplete timeline of the sociological production of the end of the pandemic across 2022. What follows is the third part of a three-part series; Part I is available here and Part II is available here.  


MAY 2022

By May, it’s common knowledge that we are now largely in the dark on Covid information.

We can summarize this month through two headlines, especially since there’s little activity on covid from the Biden administration during this time.

The first is from the Washington Post, May 9th:

The bar for reimposing mask mandates is getting higher and higher.”

One of the things the article touches on is that Philadelphia had recently made an extremely brief attempt at reinstituting its mask mandate, and ultimately failed to. It was the only large US city to do so at the time.

By mid-May, New York City was back to “High” covid spread—even on the CDC’s covid Community Level map—but Mayor Eric Adams decided to ignore it and did not issue either a mask mandate or a recommendation.

The other headline that’s most indicative of May is also from the Washington Post:

How big is the latest U.S. coronavirus wave? No one really knows.”

By this point, testing infrastructure and reporting had become so dismantled that the suggestion that is often offered to people is just to take whatever the reported daily cases number is and multiply it by five or ten times, to get a figure that’s probably closer to whatever is happening around you.

Even with shoddy reporting, cases were going up.


Before the end of May, most liberal public health talking heads had entirely stopped even being ok with saying the word “mandate,” and certainly were not speaking out in support of one.

David Leonhardt picks up on this expository opening, writing a widely shared column titled: “Why Masks Work, but Mandates Haven’t.” Almost immediately this newsletter gains traction, particularly in right-wing circles, who jump at the chance to delight in the New York Times saying “mask mandates don’t work.”


In May we quietly pass one million dead by the official count.

Just over 12,000 covid deaths are recorded in May by CDC’s count.

62% of those were vaccinated. 38% of the 12,000 were boosted.


JUNE 2022

We begin our June timeline with something that happened in the months prior but only breaks June 6th. Exact timing for when these events occurred is not given.

On June 6th, 2022, Politico published: “How many Covid deaths are acceptable? Some Biden officials tried to guess.”

From the piece:

Biden officials in recent months privately discussed how many daily Covid-19 deaths it would take to declare the virus tamed, three people familiar with the conversations told POLITICO.

The discussions, which took place across the administration, and have not been previously disclosed, involved a scenario in which 200 or fewer Americans die per day, a target kicked around before officials ultimately decided not to incorporate it into pandemic planning, according to the people. The discussions were described as exploratory, said the people, who were granted anonymity so they could speak freely about internal deliberations.

One U.S. health official told POLITICO the number was “aspirational ... a general metric people have bounced around a lot” that would signal that “the pandemic would be under control.” But, this person added, the figure “never passed the hurdles to be a formal metric.”

One of the three people involved in the conversations last year said it was an effort to gauge what the American public would “tolerate.”

“Five hundred a day is a lot. You still have 9/11 numbers in a week,” the person said. “People generally felt like 100 [a day] or less, or maybe 200, would be OK.”

With fewer than 200 people dead per day, the person added, hospitals wouldn’t be overrun and infection rates would be comparatively low, allowing Americans to live closer to pre-pandemic times with less threat of infection.

“When you spread 100 to 200 [deaths] around the country, then it’s minimal around your [geographic] area,” the person said.

But the idea never became official.


Whether these talks go very far or not, they certainly contextualize what we’ve just seen the Biden administration do. Our opinion is that this reflects a broader issue: that, by this point, the Biden administration have clearly absorbed a central lesson, which is that as long as they attempt to make a good show of things––pretending everything is ok––the levels of illness, death, debility, and disability from covid that the US public will apparently just absorb without rioting is shockingly high.

Importantly though, one of the individuals cited says that the number of deaths floated, 200 a day, would be “aspirational.” And that individual was right: even with our now-restrained data reporting infrastructure, we’ve never gotten down to that level. In fact, the lowest we’ve gotten to for any significant stretch of time is still an average of 300 deaths a day, or over 110,000 deaths a year.


On June 20th, the TRIPS waiver is officially defeated at the World Trade Organization. The Geneva Health Files newsletter offers a fitting summation of this is in their headline: “Trade Won, Health Did Not. A Sliver of a Waiver at the WTO.”


10,000 people died of covid in the US in June. 

61% were vaccinated.

38% were boosted.


JULY 2022

In July, Los Angeles does something similar to what Philadelphia had done before: it tries to reinstate a mask mandate, and ultimately doesn’t follow through

July also sees a large media conversation in which a surprising amount of writers seem to discover, perhaps for the first time, that covid reinfections not only exist, but are common. Almost universally, however, the media describes this as a novel issue caused by the latest covid variant, the omicron sub-variant BA.5, despite the fact that by this point countless people have experienced second and third infections with previous variants.

Here are some examples:

Washington Post, July 10th: “As the BA.5 variant spreads, the risk of coronavirus reinfection grows.”

July 11th, in the Atlantic, Ed Yong writes “Is BA.5 the Reinfection Wave?

July 17th, in Vox: “BA.5 doesn’t care that you just had Covid-19.”

Even Emily Oster gets in on the discourse, writing a blog post for her Substack.

Oster’s read of the moment is particularly salient because she happens to synthesize the rising media concern with reinfections with the concurrent widespread acknowledgement that we are now totally in the dark about the actual rate of covid spread in any given part of the country. Prior to this, much of Oster’s brand of covid advice—by now, notably, similar to the Biden administration’s own advice—was to take in information about rate of covid spread around you and use that to decide whether or not to do x or y based on your individual risk tolerance. This media cycle changes Oster’s opinion, though perhaps not in the way you might hope:

The presence of BA.5 has raised significant concerns—in some of the messages I get, I would say this borders on panic — about reinfection. …

There is a glass-half-full take here, which is that reinfection may be less common than you fear. But this discussion also forces the realization that reinfection is possible, and even if you had COVID before and have had all your shots, you could get it again. With this realization, we renew questions like, “Should I fly now?” or, “What about indoor dining?”

In the past, many of us were looking at data on case rates to inform decisions like this. I will level with you: that isn’t going to work now. The testing and surveillance situation in the U.S. is not good, and we really have no idea what case rates are. This is frustrating, but it seems to be where we are. The combination of this fact and the realization that reinfection is possible means that it may be time to make a less contingent, more permanent, set of choices.

You are now in a world where COVID is some risk more or less all the time, and you probably will not have much more than a vague sense of the size of the risk. Given that, what kind of long-term precautions do you want to take? …

I’m talking about choices like indoor dining, movies, concerts, airplanes. Do you do these? And if you do these things, do you mask? How will you approach testing? 

You have been thinking about these choices all along. The difference I see now is thinking about these choices as almost permanent, or at least long-term. 

Not, “Should I travel by plane this week, given the COVID rates?” But rather, “Am I comfortable with plane travel knowing the risk of COVID is present?” 

Not, “Should I wear a mask in the movie theater this week?” But rather, “Will I generally mask at the movies?” 

Not, “Should we rapid test before this particular gathering?” But rather, “Will we generally be rapid testing before we get together?” 

I don’t imagine everyone will come down in the same way on these questions. Comfort with COVID risk differs for many reasons. But at this point, I think the question you need to ask is: What behaviors am I willing to undertake long-term to avoid infection? This question is sort of a bummer, since it recognizes that there isn’t some moment when COVID will be gone, but it also lets you off the hook from re-making these choices every time.


Of course, no discussion of July 2022 could be complete without the big story in July: Biden himself gets covid.

This interrupts the Biden administration’s usual M.O. of: try not to talk about covid, do not mention masking, downplay the fact that many people are still dying, and don’t change any policies really, because you’ve already undone so much that there’s not much left to dismantle anyway.

Here was our own take on Biden’s covid diagnosis at the time, via the Washington Post’s Dan Diamond:

“I think Biden’s own covid response is what made [his infection] inevitable, really,” said Artie Vierkant, co-host of Death Panel, a left-leaning podcast that has blamed the administration for not pursuing a universal mask mandate and paid sick leave, among other mitigations. “He’s just one of tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are going to test positive for covid today.”

The main story around Biden’s covid case, however, was not Biden’s covid case itself. Instead, the main thing that happens is that the Biden administration does its best to spin his case as a success story.

Ashish Jha, after a short period of being slightly more out of view than usual, reemerges with a barrage of media narratives. This is when we first see the perhaps impromptu development of a few new lines.

One is this, said by Jha in a press conference shortly following the announcement that Biden was sick:

“We are now at a point, I believe, where we can prevent nearly every COVID death in America. That is a remarkable fact.” The Biden administration has used this line countless times since then.

The second line is a familiar one; perhaps in a rush to find new language, the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” line is rehabilitated into something somehow more sinister.

Here’s Jha on NPR shortly after Biden tests positive:

RASCOE: You know, rightly or wrongly, at this point in the pandemic, testing positive for COVID is starting to feel kind of ordinary for some Americans. And it's happening multiple times. They're catching it multiple times. Is that to be expected, or is that alarming from a public health perspective? Deaths are up to nearly 500 a day.

JHA: Yeah. So I think, Ayesha, that's the key point there is that it's not the cold. People are still getting quite sick from it. But if you look at who's getting sick, who's really ending up in the hospital, who's ending up in the ICU, who's dying—unfortunately, it's people who are either not vaccinated or not up to date on their vaccines, people who are not fully, you know, boosted or double boosted if they're older, people who have not gotten treatments. We have to do our part. We have to continue working hard to make sure that Americans get vaccinated, get their immunity up, get treatments. We also obviously have to do a lot of work to keep infections as low as possible.

As we joked at the time, the Biden administration is no longer outright saying we are in “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Instead, they’re now saying we’re in a pandemic of the unboosted, or perhaps, a pandemic of the didn’t-get-paxlovid-on-time.


Following both of these events—the interminable discourse cycle of pundits realizing for the first time that reinfections are common, and the Biden administration’s largely successful attempt to spin Biden’s covid case as a success story—there is a brief media discussion before the end of July about whether everyone has in fact already had covid, and by extension, if people should just get it over with and catch it. These are the following:

July 21st, the Washington Post: “Meet the covid super-dodgers,” with the subheader: “The no-covid club gets more exclusive every day. And some members have no idea how they’re still there.”

July 22nd, in The Atlantic: “America Is Running Out of ‘COVID Virgins

July 25th, the Wall Street Journal: “Think You’ve Never Had Covid-19? Think Again.”


11,000 people die of covid in the US in July.

Just like in June, 61% of those are vaccinated, and 38% are boosted.



On August 3rd, the Biden administration released their plan for long covid.

It sucks.

We reviewed the documents on Death Panel in an episode called “The Long Welfare State.” In summary, the biggest part of the plan, a document called “Services and Support for Longer-Term Impacts of COVID-19,” is 120 pages mostly listing the programs that exist under our currently-existing, woefully inadequate welfare state.

On Death Panel we called it “quite possibly one of the most patronizing documents ever seen out of the Biden White House.”

Long covid does, thankfully, get a lot of attention in August. One of the reasons for this is not the Biden administration’s plan itself, though, but instead because, at the end of August, right-wing think tank the Brookings Institution released a report showing that as many as 4 million people are out of work because of long covid.


In August, the Biden administration finally becomes much more public about its work to kick covid care to the private market.

In an interview with the Chamber of Commerce, Ashish Jha says the following:

"My hope is that in 2023, you're going to see the commercialization of almost all of these products. Some of that is actually going to begin this fall, in the days and weeks ahead. You're going to see commercialization of some of these things," 

Jha also says in this interview that while the US government has been pleased to play this role, they want to “get out of the business” of covid treatments and vaccines.

At the end of the month, an HHS blog post comes out titled “COVID-19 Medical Countermeasures and the Commercial Marketplace” which echoes Jha’s statements. The post argues the following:

Over the course of the pandemic, the federal government has played the central coordinating role in buying, distributing, and ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and tests. We have made significant progress as a country over the past 19 months in making these tools widely available and free to the American people. …

While the federal government has been pleased to play this role, we have always known that we would not be in this business forever. We have always intended to transition this work to the commercial market and have been planning for that transition for some time now. 


17,500 people died of covid in the US in August. 

58% of them were vaccinated. 36% of them were boosted.

This is also unfortunately the last month we have up to date figures on breakthrough deaths, because the dataset lags.



The Biden administration opens September with a rush to get as many people to take the updated bivalent booster as possible, all while doing as little as possible to actually achieve that goal. 

They also decide to go with a claim that the covid vaccine will be a once a year shot like the flu shot, despite no evidence that once a year is enough protection in the absence of masking and literally any other protections, including our insufficient social welfare programs.

Since our timeline is now approaching the date of writing, and we’re only looking a few months back, let’s look at current vaccine uptake:

As of this writing, just 14.1% of people in the US have gotten the updated booster.

Worse, only 3% of kids aged 6 months to two years have completed the primary series of vaccination, even though the shots have been approved for months.

For kids between two and four years old, only about 5% of them have completed primary series vaccination.

Not only is it brazen and irresponsible to claim that this is a “pandemic of the unboosted” (in so many words) given just what we know about breakthrough deaths, it is grotesque to claim such a thing with vaccination rates this low. 

There are many, many things the Biden administration could do to change this. Instead, as we will see in sharp detail when we reach October on this timeline, they have focused primarily on a vaccination strategy of relying on corporate partnerships to do the nation’s public health work, and on admonishing the public when that strategy ultimately fails. We suspect the administration has largely gotten away with such little effort thanks, in part, to the persistent myth that low vaccination rates are caused exclusively by an extant population of Republican anti-vaxxers. But partisan politics alone does not explain low vaccination rates: data suggests people living in low-income areas—including those that tend to vote for Democrats—have meaningfully lower vaccination rates than people living in wealthier areas. This suggests to us a clear class divide that is completely ignored in mainstream discourse about vaccination rates; the end result is that the Biden administration is left off the hook for its failures in this area.


September 7th:

[Image description: New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s September ad campaign on masking, advising public transit riders that “Masks are encouraged, but optional.” Four stick figure drawings are shown wearing masks in a variety of ways. One is wearing a mask properly, the other three are either wearing them incorrectly or not wearing a mask at all. The message is that each variation is appropriate.]


On September 19th: Biden, speaking to 60 Minutes at the Detroit Auto Show, declares the pandemic is over. Just for context, according to data from Johns Hopkins, 937 covid deaths were reported the day Biden said this.

Here’s the quote itself:

"The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lotta work on it. It's… but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it's changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it."

This quote ignites a wave of debate, much of which argues that  Biden was right to make this remark. Some of that debate allegedly happened within the administration itself. From POLITICO, September 19th:

The declaration surprised the president’s own senior health officials, many of whom only learned about Biden’s remarks from tweets and news headlines. The president had not originally planned to make major news on Covid, nor had he discussed with his health advisers announcing an end to the pandemic soon, two senior officials said.

When the White House reviewed a transcript of his comments after the interview, which was taped earlier in the week, it did not alert its Covid team — leaving the administration without a coordinated response for the immediate aftermath.

In the hours since, health officials have privately and sarcastically applauded themselves for a job well done: After 20 months of round-the-clock work, they joked, all it took to end a once-in-a-century crisis was for Biden to declare it finished. Others argued that the time had actually come for such a declaration; that the virus is in a manageable state and Biden was simply putting in blunt terms where his administration has long been headed.

Outside of the White House, a small chorus gathered to try to assert that the timing was right, and that Biden should declare the end of the pandemic more proudly. Here’s one take from New York Magazine, headlined “Biden Is Right to Declare the ‘Pandemic Is Over’”:

[Biden’s comment] angered a number of public-health professionals and COVID hawks, who are furious mitigation tactics against the virus haven’t been pursued into the fall of 2022.

The argument against Biden is compelling. Technically, of course, the pandemic is not over. More than 400 people still die daily of COVID in the U.S. The virus has not, in any way, vanished. …

[But t]he segment of the public-health community and pundit class most enraged at Biden ignores the obvious science behind COVID-19, particularly the latest variant, BA.5. Mitigations against the variant work less well than they would have in 2020, since it spreads far more easily than prior versions of the virus. Your level of vaccination does not matter, either, in the sense that breakthrough cases are inordinately common with BA.5 and the vaccinated can spread the virus as easily as the unvaccinated. … Vaccination still safeguards you from severe illness and death. It does not, however, hold the magic key to making COVID disappear. Nothing does.

Public-health officials should understand that it’s impossible to expect any population to be on permanent war footing. 

On September 23rd, STAT News publishes a piece including commentary from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Biden’s statement:

“I think that there are a lot of different ways to think about a pandemic being over” …

“I will not let go of the 350 deaths that we are having every single day,” she said, but noted that “it’s still way less than 3,000” deaths that were occurring each day in January 2021.“And so, I think we are in a very different place.”

Possibly the most consequential result of this statement, of course, is the enormous self-inflicted damage it did to the administration’s own argument that Congress should fund the covid response. Conservative press immediately seized on this statement as an easy explanation for why no Republican representatives should so much as consider voting to fund further covid efforts, a line they push to this day. Even as Biden and his administration have continued to argue that Congress is the villain in the story of the pandemic response, their actions show them as just as guilty a party.


12,700 people died of covid in the US in September.



On October 25th, Biden gives a speech, flanked by executives from CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Albertsons, and more, to announce the administration’s covid plan for fall and winter. 

The plan is most notable for its list of coupons and other promotional efforts it promises for people who get an updated covid booster at any of the businesses present at the announcement. For example:

CVS … is offering $5 off any purchase of $20 (redeemable in-store or online) for consumers getting an updated COVID-19 shot.

Albertsons is also offering 10 percent off groceries (up to $20 off) for people who get their COVID-19 vaccine in-store.

Rite Aid will offer coupons for $5 off $25 purchase for those who receive a COVID-19 updated booster (not valid in New York or New Jersey).

The plan makes other pronouncements, like that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will send a second email reminder to Medicare recipients suggesting they get the shot. The plan also includes the following highlight, a program with some of the most specific eligibility criteria we’ve seen Kamala Harris' 2020 presidential run:

Walgreens, Uber, and DoorDash: Walgreens, Uber, and DoorDash are stepping up to answer the President’s call to action by increasing access to COVID-19 treatments. Walgreens is working with Uber and DoorDash to provide free delivery of prescriptions of Paxlovid, an oral COVID-19 treatment, directly to the doorsteps of Americans living in underserved communities. Patients with a prescription for Paxlovid being filled at Walgreens who live in a socially vulnerable community, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index, will be able to have their Paxlovid prescription delivered to their home through Uber Health and DoorDash at no cost via and the Walgreens app. 


All of this is incredibly bleak, but the rhetoric Biden used in his speech announcing the plan was even worse. Biden and team choose this moment to prominently feature the newly rehabilitated “pandemic of the unvaccinated” line:

As a country, you know, we—we have a choice to make. Can we repeat what happened in past winters—more infections; more hospitalizations; more loved ones getting sick, even dying from the virus—or we can have a much better winter if we use all—all of the tools we have available to us now?

Let me be as plain as I—let me be as plain as I can. We still have hundreds of people dying each day from COVID in this country—hundreds.  That number is likely to rise this winter.

But this year is different from the past. This year, nearly every death is preventable. Let me say it again: Nearly every death is preventable. …

Here’s the bottom line: Virtually every COVID death in America is preventable—virtually every one. Almost everyone who will die from COVID this year will not be up to date on their shots or they will not have taken Paxlovid when they got sick.

So there you go. A pandemic of the unboosted. A pandemic of the didn’t-get-paxlovid on time. This also has shades, of course, of the line from 2021: “We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated—for themselves, their families and the hospitals they'll soon overwhelm.”


An important thing to note, as the Biden administration prepares to hand off covid treatments to the private market by 2023:

On October 21st, Pfizer announced its covid vaccine will cost $110-$130 per dose once it’s transitioned to the private market.

We know from 2021—as we wrote about here at The New Inquiry—that Pfizer has been eagerly awaiting this move, and likely lobbying for it in the background. In a 2021 investor call, Pfizer had called its current scheme appropriate for “a pandemic pricing market” saying “obviously we’re going to get more on price.” 

By the time they announced the $110 price point, it had only been a month since Biden declared the pandemic “over.”


In October, “Immunity Debt” becomes a favored talking point among liberals. Emily Oster, first in The Atlantic and then in a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, suggests “Let’s Declare A Pandemic Amnesty.” One team of researchers, writing in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), develops a brilliant idea for reframing the ongoing workplace disruption of death and disability caused by our covid response: “long social distancing.”

From here, we are firmly in recent history. Our comments on the remaining months on the timeline will be brief as a result.

12,000 people died of covid in the US in October 2022.



On November 18th, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, speaking at the STAT Summit in Boston, says that Pfizer's vaccine will continue to be “free for all Americans.” He’s only talking about people with a health insurance plan, ignoring the mass of uninsured and underinsured people in the US.

Also in November we have, for the first time in a while, a renewed attention on breakthrough cases and deaths. This happens in part because the Washington Post does a series of different articles on the same CDC dataset that both we and the Kaiser Family Foundation drew from on breakthrough deaths

Here’s how they framed this though. 

November 30th:

Covid becomes plague of elderly, reviving debate over ‘acceptable loss’

This should go without saying, but one’s age does not make one’s death less tragic. Equally, we must question what kind of political economy could consider these losses “acceptable.”


12,000 people died of covid in the US in November 2022.



This brings us to the last few weeks.

Cases are spiking again. In the first week of December 2022, 3,115 people died of covid in the US. In the last week, as of this writing, an additional 2,703 people died of covid. This is between 400 and 450 people dying of covid every day.

This has led to some state and local governments once again “recommending” masking but falling far short of mandating it.

The CDC and the Biden administration has even broken its long streak of going out of its way to not say “masking” or “masks,” though their subtle—and likely temporary—shift in rhetoric is woefully insufficient to actually meet the moment.

Further, some comments by administration officials make clear that no such return to promoting universal masking is in the cards. On December 15th, speaking on a livestream event with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ashish Jha said the following (emphasis added): “The notion that you could cut respiratory infections—there is no study in the world that shows that masks work that well. You’re never going to get the kind of benefit from mandatory, year-round masking as you would from making substantial improvements to indoor air quality.” This statement—a patently untrue one—shows that the Biden administration intends to stay on course with its longstanding prerogative of downplaying masking, as we document in “How Liberals Killed Masking.”

For its part, major press outlets have similarly continued to cast doubt on and stigmatize masking. On December 7th, the Washington Post pondered, “With such a heavy burden of illness straining the health-care system, it may be hard to believe that something as simple as a face mask could make a meaningful difference. But health experts say a quality medical mask remains a highly effective line of defense.” Also on December 7th, the New York Times prominently quoted Bob Wachter in one article, claiming, “The early days of ‘What I do affects you, and what you do affects me’—there are very few people who still think that way … It’s a natural phenomenon to move from a communal point of view to this individual risk benefit point of view.” On December 20th, the Times opinion page listed masking in a roundup of “debates that made us rage [and] roll our eyes” in 2022, asking: “Are people who still wear them living in the past or looking out for their communities?”

According to POLITICO, the Biden administration has begun to prepare to end the official federal declaration of a public health emergency, an action that would have disastrous consequences on state Medicaid programs, in addition to speeding their process of kicking covid vaccines and therapeutics to the private market. Worse, Congressional Democrats have moved just this week to embrace a Republican policy proposal that would put an early end to enhanced pandemic-era Medicaid funding before the public health emergency is officially declared over.


As we said at the beginning of this timeline, in Part I, we are increasingly living simultaneously in the covid pandemic as an ongoing event, and as its own aftermath. But just because so much has been undone doesn’t mean we can’t change.

The Biden administration has held dogmatically to a vaccine-only strategy against the pandemic, unwavering even in the face of enormous ongoing evidence that such a strategy is  insufficient. Over the last three years, covid mitigations and covid itself have come to be understood as a factor of individual, personal risk; an understanding championed by the Biden administration itself, and exacerbated by a collective fantasy that there are intrinsically healthy people and intrinsically unhealthy people.

Last year around this time we engaged in a similar exercise on Death Panel, looking back at the year 2021 through a lens of how the pandemic was normalized, what we have called the sociological production of the end of the pandemic. A theme of that retrospective was that our pandemic response has resulted in part from Biden’s role—and more broadly, the structural role of the presidency itself—as a chief manager of capitalism.

After all, Biden pledged before he was even inaugurated: “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m going to shut down the virus.”

Was it worth it?

This miserable economy in which so many people are struggling? The temporary economic gains produced by a race to “re-open the economy” that just slipped away immediately because forcing everybody back to work meant forcing people toward illness, over and over again?

Many of us would like to think that there must be some level of death, some level of sickness and disability or debility, that will make the system stop working, or that will cause some wake up call for liberals. The last two years under Biden have demonstrated very plainly that that is not the case.

The reality of our political economy, as we try to document in our book Health Communism, is that the capitalist state relies on social murder as a management function. The capitalist state is deliberately not set up to support individuals who aren’t “productive” to the capitalist economy, to the point of ultimately turn this population of “surplus” into economic fuel for extractive state capacities. In this way, social murder—or organized abandonment, slow death—is component to capitalism itself; a crucial state capacity.

But the fact that even under our current political economy—under capitalism—we could have saved so many speaks volumes to the depravity of the current makeup of the US state. Our demands must be large, and they must be oriented at a horizon that breaks this political economy. Capitalism has weathered crises like covid before, and will again, but only if we let it. There is nothing to wait for. There will be no better time.