(CNN)The thing Americans want most from Joe Biden is beyond his power to deliver: an end to the pandemic.But the President will make a new attempt on Thursday to chart a path out of a national nightmare that is beginning to feel like a dark, repeating, permanent reality — and to prove he is the leader that can reach that elusive destination.His speech will coincide with a frightening new dimension of the emergency, with children now representing about one in four new infections, with hundreds in hospitals, a surge that is terrifying parents and threatening in-person school.The raging resurgence of the crisis this summer, fueled by the Delta variant of the virus, did not just sow yet more human misery — with daily deaths now averaging more than 1,500. It encroached on the widespread perception that normality — vacations, family visits, returns to the office — might be returning amid hopes of a summer of freedom earlier this year. The relapse into crisis also harmed Biden’s credibility as the President who was elected to put the pandemic in the past, since he declared on July Fourth the nation was emerging from a “year of pain, fear and heartbreaking loss” and left a clear impression that the worst was over.But as CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta pointed out on Wednesday, the situation is in some ways more acute now than it was a year ago — and that takes into account the miracle of highly effective vaccines. This Labor Day, there were 3.5 times as many Covid-19 infections, 2.5 times as many hospitalizations and double the number of average daily deaths as at the same point a year ago, Gupta reported, citing figures from Johns Hopkins University and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
The pandemic hasn’t followed exactly the same surging and waning pattern as last yet. With the growing realization that earlier expectations of eliminating Covid-19 were over-optimistic, there is a need for a national reckoning and resetting of new expectations that only a President, with his megaphone and profile, can achieve. In some ways, Biden is like a wartime president girding his people for many more months of struggle. And Thursday’s speech will be closely watched to see how hard will be the truths that Biden — who said while campaigning that he would always give it to the country straight — will be prepared to share.
Given the political sensitivities, he may not be quite so blunt as emergency room doctor Megan Ranney, who offered an unvarnished diagnosis of the nation’s new reality on Wednesday.”Covid is never going to disappear. Anyone who says we’re going to eradicate it or that it’s vanquished, honestly, they’re lying,” said Ranney, associate dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.”Covid is going to be around forever. We have to learn how to deal with it, and we have to make it something that is no longer as dangerous as it has been.”