COVID Is Over! (If You Want) | Crooked Media
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January 31, 2023
What A Day
COVID Is Over! (If You Want)

In This Episode

  • The Biden administration announced it will end the national and public health emergency declarations for COVID on May 11th, marking a new phase in the government’s response to the pandemic. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of Crooked’s “America Dissected” podcast, tells us  about the potential health care consequences of the decision, and the benefits that will likely cease later this year.
  • And in headlines: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank, the I.M.F. released a slightly more optimistic report for the global economy, and House Republican George Santos said he plans to temporarily step down from his committee assignments.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, February 1st. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What A Day where we will not be missing January at all. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Look, January, you had your chance. You had 31 chances in fact, you blew it every single time. 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean, February is about to do it better in fewer days, plus it’s Black History Month. So let’s go. Positive vibes only. [music break] On today’s show, Republican Representative George Santos said he will temporarily step down from his congressional committees. Plus, a warning to parents, keep your kids away from the food delivery apps. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Mmm, maybe. [laughter] But first, the Biden administration announced that it will end the National and Public Health emergency declarations for COVID on May 11th. The state of emergency was declared by the Trump administration in early 2020 and has been ongoing for nearly three years now. Biden’s announcement came as he criticized the effort by House Republicans to end the emergency declaration immediately. The White House has said that that would be completely disruptive and chaotic, but you know this move will really be the start of a new phase of response to this pandemic, despite the fact that hundreds of Americans are still dying every single day from this virus. To hear a little bit more about the decision and its potential consequences, we brought in our good friend, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It’s great to be back. I really appreciate it. Although you all come talk to me whenever bad stuff happens in public health. [laugh] So, I you know I’m telling you, like at some point– 


Priyanka Aribindi: I know. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: –I’m hoping to come on and share the secrets to my wonderful skin routine but until then– 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laughter] I would love that. Personally.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: –we can talk about public health emergencies [?]–


Juanita Tolliver: But actually, what’s your take on vitamin C real quick? I’m joking. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Oh, so good. So good.


Juanita Tolliver: Let’s go. Let’s go. [laughter]


Priyanka Aribindi: We’ll get into that later, but let’s dive right in. What does this move from the Biden administration say about the state of the pandemic, or more specifically, how federal health officials are thinking about it? 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What it does tell us, on the one hand, is that the federal government has been angling toward a moving away period from the pandemic as a storyline more generally. And we’ve seen this in a focus on everything that has not been COVID. At the same time, given the fact that we continue to watch as 400 plus Americans die every day of COVID, it’s very difficult to actually sunset the kinds of public health policies undergirded by a public health emergency. At the same time, it tells us a lot not about the state of the pandemic. It tells us a bit about the state of Congress, which right now we have a House that’s dominated by Republicans. And one of the things they’ve been trying to tell us since March of 2020 is that COVID is over despite the fact that it’s taken 1.1 million lives. We continue to watch as 400 people die a day. And one of the things that the Congress has tried to do is force the administration’s hand. And so I think rather than continue to fight, what they’ve said is that they’re going to end the public health state of emergency in about 90 days. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And based on you know what we know, especially considering the current variants in circulation, vaccination rates, all of that, do you think this is the right move from the administration? 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I personally don’t. On the one hand, emergency implies emergence, it implies this thing being new. And we are in a moment now where we are about to turn the corner. Certainly by the time that this public health emergency winds down on three years of this pandemic. So it’s not emergent anymore. It’s just the state of play in our country. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And at the same time, it is very difficult to say that something that continues to take 400 lives a day is not an emergency. It’s not something that we should be paying extraordinary attention to. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And so while I worry a lot about what the drawdown of this public health emergency will mean for the attention that we pay COVID and certainly low income Black and Brown people who have been underserved by our government for a long time, and their access to things like vaccines, treatments, and testing for COVID. I also think that what we probably ought to do is try and codify a lot of what this new normal public policy has been by other means. 


Juanita Tolliver: And one thing I want to get into is the contrast here, because if Republicans had their way, they’d pass a bill through Congress declaring that the pandemic is over, they’d end this public health emergency today, actually. Right. So talk through the differences in approach here, because the White House is proposing a months long transition, whereas the GOP would love an immediate end. So talk about the differences and the potential ramifications if the GOP got their way. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What we’re seeing here is that one party is serious about governing and the other party is serious about making claims that seem to fly in the face of any sort of responsible stewardship of our federal government. If Republicans got their way, what we would see is that overnight funding for access to everything from vaccines to treatments to hospitals would go away without easing those off and giving folks enough time to adjust. That would have some devastating impacts on a number of institutions. And more importantly, it’d have devastating impacts on people. Right. One of the things that came with the public health emergency was that state governments were no longer allowed to kick people off their Medicaid. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right. Medicaid being the insurance program for low income Americans that’s operated through the states but funded through the federal government. That is going to end. And we’re going to see, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid and states where you have Republican leadership that’s ideologically opposed to providing basic health care for low income people, people are going to be thrown off their Medicaid. And, you know, when you lose access to something as fundamental as your health insurance, there is a real cost to you, your family and society. I shouldn’t have to say that. But that’s part and parcel of what it seems like Republican ideology has become about. Beyond that. Right. I think for all of us, we took it for granted that for the first time, our federal government guaranteed us access to something absolutely free at the point of care, which was the vaccines. Where in your life were you able to go just about anywhere, whether it was a private pharmacy or it was a–  


Juanita Tolliver: Right, a CVS, a Walgreens, whatever. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, you’d sign up, they’d ask you minimal information, and then you would get this free piece of health care. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s going to go away. Moderna is planning to raise its prices up to $130 a dose. Pfizer has said that they’re going to um raise their prices to $82 a dose. And for a lot of people who remain under-vaccinated, which really is the issue right now, that’s going to be a lot harder to get them out there to do the thing that they can do to protect themselves and their families from this virus. And, you know, meanwhile, the virus is still evolving. I wish we could pass a law through Congress to end the pandemic. That’d be really awesome. Unfortunately, biology does not work like that. So here we are. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What are the immediate changes we can expect on May 11th when this happens? 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Um. Access to vaccines and treatments and testing is going to be a lot more complicated. It’s going to, like almost all health care depend on the state of your insurance. If you’re on Medicare now, you’re going to start seeing out-of-pocket costs that come with getting access to something like a COVID test or a treatment. If um you’re on Medicaid, it really depends on what state you live in. If you’re privately insured and you have good insurance, then great, you’re likely going to see no real change in your access. But if you don’t have good insurance or you don’t have insurance at all, you may not be able to get access without paying a hefty fee to things that we’ve taken for granted as being free because our government was doing its part and paying for them. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Juanita Tolliver: I hear you say that. And I think about one thing I still haven’t heard much about either, though. The fact that there aren’t announced supports or programs or interventions for people experiencing long COVID and people now living with disabilities they didn’t have before contracting the virus. And so I hope more comes from that from the White House in this transition. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I mean, that’s a really good point. And depending upon what the government chooses to do and how it chooses to process long COVID, you’ve got a situation where we had potentially a mass disabling event. There are going to be people who live with the long term consequences of long COVID for some time after this, quote, “public health emergency ends”. And the worry that I have is because of the rush on both sides to sort of walk away from COVID, that a lot of those folks just aren’t going to be made whole because well politics have moved away and nobody really wants to talk about COVID anymore. You would think that something that may have forced people into a situation where they’re dealing with the long term consequences of this disease for a long time to come would force us to pay attention. But ironically, we’re in this position now where folks kind of just don’t want to, where we’ve got this sort of mass ostrich effect. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. I think it’s about the attention span, but also the appetite. Speaking of the appetite, I fully expect once this public health emergency goes away, everybody will stop any COVID protections that we’re taking at a personal level as well. We’ve already seen that throughout this pandemic. But what do you think the new public health message is going to be for the country going forward? And what recommendations do you have for people as we know, as you stated before, hundreds of people are still dying every day from COVID. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: There’s a couple of pieces here that I want us to think a bit about. Number one, we’ve got to do all we can to destigmatize mask wearing. Masks remain one of the most important, most effective interventions against COVID and many other diseases. I’ve watched as people have sort of been bothered in public spaces because they choose to wear a mask. And I thought that the whole point of the anti-maskers was it’s my body, my choice, so why are we now harassing people? The second point is what’s going to happen per the FDA, vaccination is likely to turn into an annual vaccine similar to what we do with flu. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The hard part, though, is that for a lot of people, the way that vaccines were pitched was that you would get your first two vaccines and then you would be quote, “vaccinated”. And the challenge now is that there are 70% of Americans who are vaccinated, but they’re under-vaccinated because if you look at folks who are up to date on their vaccines, you’re only at about 16% who’ve taken the updated bivalent vaccine. I worry that the uptake of that annual vaccine is going to continue to be low just based on the uptake of this last vaccine coming into this fall. So we’re really going to have to focus on making sure that folks understand that they’re going to need to take a vaccine every year to protect themselves from the newest COVID variant, given what this virus can do. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And I worry that by hinging vaccine access on a public health emergency and then removing that public health emergency, we’re just putting up more obstacles to people being able to get those vaccines. And so it’s not just about telling people what they ought to do and, quote, “educating them against the onslaught of misinformation.” It’s also about making access to those things as easy as possible. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. As always, thank you so much for joining us, Abdul. We really appreciate your time. And we just we just love having you. So thank you so much. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Appreciate y’all having me. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of Crooked’s America Dissected podcast. And stay tuned, y’all. He’s got an upcoming skincare routine episode that you will not want to miss. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Keeping my eyes peeled for that one. [laughter] [music break] Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy meets with President Biden today in what will be their first sit down since McCarthy became speaker. The battle over the debt ceiling will be top of mind, and this will likely be the first of many contentious meetings leading up to June, which is when the U.S. could default on its debt unless an agreement is made. McCarthy and other Republicans in the House want to cut government spending before increasing the debt limit, but have yet to give any specifics on how they would do that. Meanwhile, the White House says that increasing the debt ceiling is, quote, “not a negotiation”, seeing as this is money we already spent. 


Juanita Tolliver: That part. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank yesterday. This comes after a recent surge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Blinken, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, urged both sides to work toward reducing tensions and also renew calls for a two state solution, but did not call for a new round of peace talks. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The seven states that depend on water from the Colorado River missed another deadline imposed by the federal government yesterday. Last year, they were tasked with drawing up a plan to voluntarily cut how much to draw from the dwindling waterway by as much as 4 million acre feet or face mandatory restrictions. To give you some perspective, one acre foot is enough to cover a football field in one foot of water. So that is–


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –a lot of water. Six states came up with a last ditch proposal to save about a third of that target. But California, which pulls a larger share from the river than any other state, did not sign on. Officials say that the Golden State is formulating its own conservation plan, but the lack of consensus for now could spell trouble in the very immediate future. That is because the river, which supplies water to millions of people and farmland across the west, is quickly running dry due to climate change and decades of overuse. 


Juanita Tolliver: The International Monetary Fund on Monday released a slightly more optimistic report for the global economy. While the fund noted that the overall economic growth will likely slow this year around the world. It pointed to the efforts by international banks to combat inflation. The reopening of China’s economy as it eased its zero-covid policies and Europe’s solutions to its energy crisis, which are bright spots if you’re a wolf of Wall Street type, meanwhile, the outlook for the US is well meh. The IMF expects that while inflation in this country will eventually slow down, the unemployment rate will gradually rise and that the path to avoid a recession will still be very narrow. 


Priyanka Aribindi: They said slightly more optimistic report and that is a very slight. 


Juanita Tolliver: [laughing] We’ll get what we can get alright. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Sure. We’ll take it. We’ll take anything. House Republican and faking it till you make it personified George Santos plans to step down temporarily from his committee assignments. According to reports, the Long Island congressman told his colleagues that he didn’t want to be a distraction. 


Juanita Tolliver: Sir. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Just–


Juanita Tolliver: Sir. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Interesting. Very interesting. [laugh] He later wrote a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, thanking him for the assignments, but said that he wants to take this time to focus on his constituents, which makes sense, seeing as according to a recent poll, 78% of them think he should resign. Santos made this decision while he’s being investigated for campaign finance violations after he lied about his entire life story and then some. Details that mattered, details that didn’t matter at all, everything was fair game. He had been assigned to both the small business and science committees, which, according to his résumé, was well-deserved. If anything, the man was overqualified. 


Juanita Tolliver: When a child asks if you have games on your phone, come prepared for chaos. On Saturday, a Michigan parent let his six year old son Mason, use his cell phone to play a mobile game for a bit before bedtime. Imagine his surprise when cars began pulling up to his driveway, unloading bag after bag of food. Mason used his dad’s phone to go on a $1,000 GrubHub spending spree from several area restaurants. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Hell yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean, I’m like, at least he shopped local. Shout out to support local businesses. While a $439 pizza order from a local restaurant was flagged for fraudulent behavior. A $183 order for five portions of jumbo shrimp from the same restaurant went right on through. I guess he had to class up the order, right? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: Dream big. By the end of the spending spree, Mason had ordered jumbo shrimp, pepperoni, pizzas, shawarma and pita sandwiches, chili cheese fries, a personal favorite of mine. Ice cream, grape leaves, rice and more. The family shared their bounty with their neighbors, and Mason’s dad told the local news he’s changing the passcode on his phone. Come on. This is amazing. This is my dream. 


Priyanka Aribindi: This is hysterical. Wow. I mean, there’s range in this order too. Like– 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: He’s all over the place. Like he’s doing classics like your pizza, your chili cheese fries. He’s getting grape leaves. Like, palate is very advanced for a six year old. 


Juanita Tolliver: The jumbo shrimp is [makes kiss sound] chef’s kiss. [laughter] 


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, he’s not a picky eater, which is great. I feel like that’s tough to come by. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. There’s veggies and grape leaves. Come on. This is amazing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I got to stan. Sorry. We have no choice. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday WAD squad. And today we are doing a segment called Bad Sound. Take a listen to today’s clip. 


[clip of Donald Trump] Anyone in my position not taking the Fifth Amendment would be a fool, an absolute fool. One statement or answer that is ever so slightly off, just ever so slightly by accident, by mistake, such as it was a sunny and beautiful day when actually it was slightly overcast, would be met by law enforcement under the advice of my counsel. And for all of the above reasons, I respectfully decline to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution. 


Juanita Tolliver: I cannot believe this man was president. I cannot believe he’s running again for president. What a joke. Oh, my God. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I got to say, also very low energy. But that, [laughter] of course, was for [laughing] [clap] that, of course, was former President Donald Trump pleading the Fifth Amendment in a recently released video of his deposition last August with New York Attorney General Letitia James. Trump allegedly invoked the Fifth Amendment over 400 times during this deposition. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yikes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And not that we’re in the habit of taking this man at his word, but this is the same guy who famously said in 2016, quote, “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Interesting question he asks. Juanita, what are your thoughts? On seeing this clip.


Juanita Tolliver: [laugh] Like I am losing my mind right now because he already told us he’s clearly lying. He’s clearly not innocent and that’s why he’s pleading the Fifth. So he’s following his own rules. We got to– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 


Juanita Tolliver: –take him at his word on that. But did you see how he was behaving in that video? Like let’s be real, slumped over, uneven spray tan, hair doing even more stuff than his hair used to do. Like he just looks a mess. I I can’t believe that he’s like is literally trying to run for president again. But let’s be real. We have not seen the depths of Donald Trump like this is still not the worst of it, I don’t think. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it was giving like Weekend at Bernie’s a little bit and I [laughter] did not like it. [laughing] Um.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m like, what does the weather have to do with anything? Why is he talking about the weather? Like– 


Priyanka Aribindi: –I don’t know– 


Juanita Tolliver: –Sir. 


Priyanka Aribindi:  –is we’re going a little word salad. Don’t like where we’re headed here. Yeah, just for the entertainment factor. I do prefer when he’s a little uptempo, a little a little higher energy. But no, it’s never particularly fun hearing hearing that man speak. So those are my thoughts. 


Juanita Tolliver: He was giving Jeb. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It was Jeb exclamation point. A little underwhelming of the exclamation, though. That was, you know, pretty bad sound, I got to say. 


Juanita Tolliver: Truly bad sound. [laughter] [music break]




Juanita Tolliver: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Plead the Fifth a couple hundred times and tell your friends to listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just anything but your food delivery receipts like me [laughter]  What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver.


[spoken together] And resign George. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, what are you doing here? 


Juanita Tolliver: Step aside. And you know what’s crazy? Even 71% of Republicans in his district want him gone. So it’s like, dude, dude, go home. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know. He found a pretty cushy job, though. He doesn’t have to be on any committees, he gets to cash that check. 


Juanita Tolliver: For two years. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Two years guaranteed income, doesn’t have to work on Friday. Might be living the life. [laughter] [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break]