With a new COVID-19 plan focused on increased testing and booster shots, tighter rules for international travel, and an extended mask mandate for public transportation, the Biden administration acknowledged that a full return to normal won't happen until well into 2022.

President Joe Biden seems to be betting that too much action is better than too little in the eyes of voters, but that approach could backfire, according to GOP strategist John Feehery.


"The Biden team has been misreading the polls on this fairly consistently. That’s why they have pursued a vaccine mandate and a mask mandate — because they believe that most Americans want strong leadership that leads to zero COVID," Feehery said. "I think most Americans fear the government response to COVID more than they fear COVID itself. Most Americans understand that we are going to have to live with COVID and want to move on with their lives."

That aggressive approach could also be a factor in Biden's consistently sagging approval ratings.

"Biden and his team keep making exactly the wrong choices, and that’s why his poll numbers are so low," Feehery added.

The federal mask mandate for airports, rail stations, and public transit has been extended from Jan. 18 to March 18, meaning it will stay in place past the second anniversary of the virus entering the United States. But Biden has avoided calls for more mask mandates at the state and local level, pointing instead to existing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the nine points in Biden's winter COVID-19 strategy, five deal with vaccinations, two address treatment for those who contract the disease, and two call for increased testing. None call for lockdowns or quarantines, which have largely been abandoned in the U.S. during recent months.

“I expect the new normal to be everyone ends up getting vaccinated and the booster shot,” Biden said earlier this week. “So we reduce the number of people who aren’t protected to such a low degree that we’re not seeing the spread of these viruses.”

If anything, political pressures may prevent the White House from going far enough, Binghamton University political science professor Olga Shvetsova argued.

In order to halt the virus, she said vaccines must not only be mandated but that fully vaccinated people need to be tested regularly to stop the emergence of new variants.

"We cannot allow people to be sick but not too sick," Shvetsova said. "That's what created delta, and that's what created omicron. It's not only about preventing people from being terribly sick. It's about preventing them from being sick in invisible ways."

Politically, that may be impossible, given the raging legal battles over Biden's vaccine-or-test mandate. The administration's heavy emphasis on vaccines could also backfire if new shots are needed for omicron, Shvetsova said, as those with boosters may balk at taking a fourth shot.

Much of the debate now centers on whether the goal is completely eradicating the virus or learning to live with it.

"We're never going back to normal. Personally, I don't think I will ever get on a plane without wearing a mask," Democratic strategist Patti Solis Doyle told the Washington Post, saying Biden should get more credit for progress made to date.

Her comment drew harsh criticism from conservatives, with GOP Rep. Brian Mast of Florida tweeting, "This is why we must defeat [Biden] and elect a Republican Congress to stop his anti-freedom agenda."


Even as he promises no new mandates or lockdowns, COVID-19 fatigue could give Republicans a big boost next November.

Just as the Biden campaign used the virus to help sweep former President Donald Trump out of office last year, its lingering presence may come back to bite the administration in the midterm elections.

"If COVID is still around by the election of 2022, I think it will be very bad for those who are in charge," Feehery said.