President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccines Tuesday in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

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Just days before Christmas, President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans about the worsening coronavirus pandemic. If you’re fully vaccinated, and boosted if appropriate, he said, you can enjoy your holidays. If you’re not, well, the president cajoled, encouraged and pleaded with those who aren’t yet vaccinated to do so.

And for everyone, he said, better systems of testing were coming.

“I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried, and frustrated I know you are. I know how you’re feeling,” the president said Tuesday.

We appreciate the sentiment, but we remain unconvinced that Biden knows how the American people are feeling.

We certainly don’t speak for everyone in the U.S. — or Maine. But we believe that many Americans are tired, worried and frustrated because of vague and conflicting statements and actions from the White House and the federal government in general. This has led to confusion and frustration.

For example, Biden announced a new strategy on Dec. 2 that included a requirement that insurance companies cover 100 percent of the cost of at-home tests — at some point in the future. Less than three weeks later, Americans were scrambling before Christmas to get checked for COVID-19 through PCR tests or to buy less accurate at-home tests. Many online retailers and pharmacies ran out of the at-home tests, and there were long lines at PCR testing facilities. The New York attorney general is investigating possible price gouging as at-home tests were being sold for far more than their retail price because of the rapid rise in requests for testing.

Against these realities, the president’s reassurances and newest efforts to increase testing and hospital capacity come too late. The increase in testing production and the new program of free at-home tests will come after families have mixed and mingled for the holidays.

Already, before Christmas, the omicron variant was growing rapidly and had become the dominant strain in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. Health care facilities remained crowded with COVID patients, most of them unvaccinated, setting new records for hospitalizations attributed to the virus. Testing and hospital capacity challenges, it’s important to note, predated omicron’s arrival. This didn’t happen overnight.

The president is right that the current situation is different from March 2020. We collectively know much more about coronavirus and how it spreads. We have vaccines and medications to treat COVID. Until the holiday break, our schools were largely open with testing replacing quarantines of entire classrooms.

Yet, much is frustratingly similar. While protective supplies were in short supply in 2020 — those are now stockpiled, Biden said Tuesday — it is testing capacity that is in short supply, with little explanation of why. Experts blame the Food and Drug Administration and its regulations for approving new types of tests.

This may be true, but the administration’s incredulity earlier this month at the suggestion that every household should be sent free tests — which some other countries have done — showed that a lack of creative thinking, perhaps as much as government regulations, has stymied progress on controlling COVID-19.

Regarding testing, Biden said Tuesday: “On that score, we are [not] where we should be.” That’s an understatement.

To remedy it, the president announced the federal government would set up emergency testing sites in areas of great need, including in New York City before Christmas. The federal government will also purchase 500 million at-home testing kits with deliveries starting in January.

This is all helpful, but we have to wonder why it took so long. Explanations from the president, and Vice President Kamala Harris, that omicron spread so fast and no one saw this coming are foolish. Scientists and health experts have said for months that new variants were likely to emerge quickly and that those variants were likely to be more transmissible than their predecessors.

Vaccines, as the president said, remain the best way to protect yourself against serious illness and hospitalization with COVID-19. They are also the best way to slow the spread of the virus and the growth of new variants.

But vaccine hesitancy is not new and wealthy nations like the U.S. have been too slow to share vaccines with poorer countries. So relying so heavily on inoculations, without building up testing capacity and putting more urgency into the development and approval of therapeutics, was a recipe for the disaster that has engulfed the U.S.

We are glad that the Biden administration has again committed to further increasing testing capacity, along with helping overwhelmed medical facilities, including several in Maine, with additional personnel and equipment.

We fear, however, that the administration’s muddled messages and response plans have wasted precious time in the fight against COVID-19.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...