WASHINGTON — President Biden returned to Delaware for the 31st time since taking office Monday as the surging Omicron variant of COVID-19 dashed his plans for a post-Christmas vacation in Puerto Rico.
Biden will stay at his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach with first lady Jill Biden and new first puppy Commander.
The president spent Christmas at the White House with his extended family and had planned to visit Puerto Rico in a twist on a family tradition of celebrating New Year’s in the US Virgin Islands.
Biden often spends the holiday on St. Croix or on Water Island off St. Thomas at a property owned by his brother, Jim Biden.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus, however, plunged the nation back into crisis with record-high new infections in New York City, DC and other parts of the country, despite the overwhelming majority of Americans being vaccinated.
Although preliminary data from other countries indicates that symptoms from the Omicron variant may be less severe, hospitalization rates are rising sharply in New York.
The new variant of COVID-19 was first detected in late November in South Africa, prompting Biden to announce travel restrictions affecting eight countries in southern Africa while he was spending a long Thanksgiving weekend on Nantucket.
Biden has repeatedly expressed regret about not surging COVID-19 testing ahead of Christmas, saying Monday morning that he’d have “gone harder, quicker” to distribute COVID-19 tests if he’d known the Omicron variant was going to cause a surge of new infections.
But the president also denied a report that said the White House rejected the recommendations of a group of public health experts from Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation and other groups who at an Oct. 22 meeting urged administration officials to mass-distribute free rapid tests to every household before Christmas.
“We didn’t reject it,” Biden told The Post on the White House lawn as he departed for Delaware.
One official who participated in the meeting, however, confirmed to Vanity Fair that the White House did reject the plan, saying, “We did not have capacity to manufacture over-the-counter tests at that scale.” Biden last week decided to make 500 million at-home tests available for direct order from the federal government, but the delay means the initiative won’t begin until January — after the holiday travel rush and large family gatherings.