Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in two recent interviews that “we’re not going to control” COVID-19, which led Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and other critics to say President Donald Trump’s administration is giving up on fighting the pandemic.
“We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it,” Meadows, 61, told reporters Monday morning, as cases and deaths hit new surges across the U.S. in recent days.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has killed more than 225,000 people across the country so far, according to a New York Times tracker.
“We will try to contain it as best we can,” Meadows said, adding the White House is instead focusing on therapeutics and finding a vaccine.
Biden, 77, said Meadows' remark was “an acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t,” the Times reported.
Shutterstock White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
Biden's condemnation of the White House’s efforts—or lack thereof—to limit the spread of COVID-19 came after Meadows initially made a similar comment Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic, we are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics, and other medications,” Meadows told CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
Looking perplexed, Tapper, 51, responded: “Why aren’t we going to get control of the pandemic?”
“Because it’s a contagious virus, just like the flu,” Meadows said, despite federal health officials having long warned the novel coronavirus is not like the flu and spreads more rapidly, and dangerously, without proper containment efforts. (COVID-19 has killed more people in the U.S. than the last five flu seasons combined.)
“But why not make efforts to contain it?” Tapper asked again, before they began arguing.
Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to reporters on Monday
Meadows’ comments during the CNN interview led to a wave of backlash, as the U.S. now has had more than 8.7 million reported COVID-19 cases—the most in the world.
“The Trump administration would rather let tens of thousands of Americans unnecessarily die than listen to scientists and create a national plan,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, a former Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, told reporters on Sunday that Meadows’ statement signaled the Trump administration was “admitting defeat,” while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told NBC New York: “They surrendered without firing a shot.”
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images Donald Trump speaks at the White House on October 10 while recovering from COVID-19
Meadows’ update on the administration's approach to the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the White House experiences its second COVID-19 outbreak this month after five aides to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive in recent days. (Pence has since tested negative, though he's being criticized for continuing to campaign.)
The chief of staff's statement also comes as health experts warn of a dangerous spread this winter if nothing is done to contain the virus.
"We have essentially done nothing since April to actively as a country get a system in place to help it not spread this winter," Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina told USA Today this month, adding, “I expect that we will see a sharp escalation very soon and it will cause us once again to have to shut things down."
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.