Chairman Clyburn’s Opening Remarks at Hearing on State, Territories, and District of Columbia Response to the Omicron Variant
WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 20, 2022) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, delivered the following opening statement at the Select Subcommittee’s virtual hearing to examine how the governments of states, territories, and the District of Columbia are responding the spread of the Omicron variant.
Remarks as Delivered
Since the coronavirus first reached our shores two years ago, governors have played a critical role in responding to the spread of the virus.
We are fortunate to be joined today by the Governors of the state of Washington, the state of Colorado, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the state of Nebraska—as well as the Mayor of the District of Columbia, whose role is equivalent to that of a state governor—to learn more about the instrumental role these chief executives continue to play in our nation’s response to the pandemic.
This hearing comes at a pivotal moment in our nation’s response. As we gather today, we are facing new challenges from the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which is resulting in higher case numbers than ever before.
However, there is a reason to be hopeful. Early research indicates that Omicron causes less severe disease than previous strains of the coronavirus. We have more effective therapeutics at our disposal than ever to treat the disease. And—most importantly—all approved coronavirus vaccines and boosters continue to provide robust protection against severe disease and death from the Omicron variant.
If you are up to date on your coronavirus vaccinations—that is, if you have received your initial shots and then gotten a booster when eligible—you have the protection you need to live your normal life at very low risk to your health and the health of your loved ones.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic remains a crisis because millions of Americans remain unvaccinated and are therefore at risk from the Omicron variant. Recent data show that unvaccinated Americans continue to account for a substantial majority of hospitalizations and deaths. Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, these unvaccinated patients are pushing many hospital systems to their limits, threatening anyone who may need hospital care.
Many of the Americans who remain unvaccinated have made this dangerous decision because of coronavirus misinformation, which is reaching broad audiences and undermining the great work being done at all levels of government to protect communities from the virus. Misinformation has also led far too many Americans infected with the coronavirus to reject effective treatments.
It is increasingly clear why so many Americans continue to doubt the safety and effectiveness of lifesaving coronavirus vaccines: Republican politicians are one of the most vocal proponents of the misinformation that is generating those doubts. For instance, Senator Ron Johnson stated last year that there had been, quote, “over 3,000 deaths of, after, within 30 days of taking the vaccine,” falsely connecting unrelated deaths to the coronavirus vaccines. Congressman Matt Gaetz has dangerously encouraged people to get infected, saying, and I’m going to him, “The best vaccine we’ve found is mother nature’s vaccine. It’s contracting the virus.” Sadly, these are just two of many falsehoods coming from our colleagues across the aisle.
Other Republican politicians simply emphasize your right not to be vaccinated, rather than presenting the decision to get vaccinated as the consequential patriotic duty that it is. Because getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect yourself—it protects your loved ones, your communities, and your fellow citizens. The Ranking Member of this committee has criticized the Biden Administration’s vaccine requirements as, and I’m quoting, “increasing government control of your life.” End of quote.
This type of discouragement is legitimizing and perpetuating people’s vaccine hesitancy, when we should be working together to vaccinate as many Americans as possible.
The Republican Party’s promotion of misinformation has measurable consequences. One study found that political affiliation is the strongest predictor of whether someone is vaccinated, with unvaccinated adults more than three times as likely to lean Republican as Democratic. Since vaccines became widely available in May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for former President Trump in 2020 were three times as likely to die from the coronavirus as those who lived in areas that voted for President Biden. The irresponsible legitimization of vaccine misinformation by Republican leaders is tragically killing their supporters.
This vaccine resistance is among the top challenges facing leaders at the federal and state levels as we enter 2022 at the height of the Omicron wave. I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses to further understand how the federal government can work with states, territories, and the District of Columbia to overcome vaccine hesitancy, combat the Omicron variant, and prepare for any further challenges this virus may present.
The past two years have shown that federal-state collaboration is critical to mounting an effective response to the coronavirus. We saw the dire consequences of the Trump Administration’s abdication of federal leadership and refusal to provide support to states in acquiring and distributing critical personal protective equipment, tests, and other supplies during the first year of the pandemic—forcing states to fend for themselves.
Since taking office, President Biden has emphasized the importance of working with the states, territories, and the District of Columbia to respond to the pandemic.
Under Governor Inslee’s leadership, Washington state recently set up a mobile vaccination unit in King County with capacity to administer up to 1,500 vaccine and booster shots per day—and is working to set up another high-capacity site.
Under Governor Polis, Colorado recently worked with FEMA to set up mobile bus units to administer monoclonal antibody treatments in rural areas of the state, congregate living facilities, and other high demand sites.
Under Governor Pierluisi, Puerto Rico has worked hard to build vaccine confidence and get shots in arms—with the result that nearly 80 percent of Puerto Ricans are fully vaccinated, one of the highest vaccination rates among the United States and its territories.
Using funds from the American Rescue Act, Mayor Bowser and the District of Columbia have helped families struggling with rent and housing security during the pandemic. Of course, Washington, D.C.’s lack of statehood status has impacted the District’s response. Republicans refused to provide D.C. with $755 million in relief funding via the CARES Act that it would have been entitled to if it were a state. Now, I’m particularly concerned about this because this is not just people these are Americans living in our nation’s capital, they are family members. Scores of our family members left South Carolina and went to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, other places, looking to get further access to the greatness of America, and to be penalized living in the District of Columbia is just beyond compare. These people are American citizens and they should’ve been treated better. Fortunately, this funding was restored by Congress and the Biden Administration in the American Rescue Plan.
I would like to thank today’s witnesses for taking the time to testify about these pressing issues. I look forward to hearing our Governors about their responses to the Omicron variant and gaining more insight on how we can better protect Americans and end this crisis.