WASHINGTON — The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday that the United States was “not out of the woods yet” on the pandemic and was once again at a “critical point” as the highly infectious Delta variant ripped through the uninfected tha community
Just weeks after President Biden held a Fourth of July party on the South Lawn of the White House to declare independence from the virus, the director, Dr. Rochelle P. Valensky, has now called the major version “one of the most contagious respiratory viruses.” ” Said. known to scientists.
The new sense of urgency inside the administration was aimed at targeting the millions of people who have not yet been vaccinated and are therefore most likely to become infected and become ill. His grim message came at a time of growing concern and confusion, especially among parents of young children who are still not eligible to get the shot. And it underscored how quickly the pandemic’s latest surge had upset Americans, who were beginning to believe the worst was over, prompting politicians and public health officials to restart their responses. sending for.
“It’s like that moment in a horror movie when you think the horror is over and the credits are about to roll,” said Representative Jamie Ruskin, a Democrat from Maryland. “And it all starts all over again.”
Millions of people’s choice to decline the vaccine has consequences public health officials have predicted: The number of new cases in the country has increased nearly 250 percent since the start of the month, with an average of more than 41,000 infections being diagnosed. Is. Days during the last week — above 12,000.
The disease caused by the virus is killing about 250 people every day – much less than last year, but still 42 percent more than two weeks ago. More than 97 percent of hospitalized people have not been vaccinated, Dr. Valensky Said last week.
The public health crisis is particularly acute in those parts of the country with the lowest vaccination rates. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, the number of daily new cases has increased by more than 200 percent over the past two weeks, leading to new hospitalizations and almost exclusively unrelated deaths. Intensive care units in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas are filling up or filling up.
The turnabout is forcing both political parties in Washington to grapple – in so far halting and tentative ways – with the question of what tone they should strike, what guidance they should provide and the worst of the latest iteration of the public. What changes do they need to make to cope? health crisis in a century
The White House on Thursday announced new grants to local health offices for vaccines and increased testing in rural communities, even as administration officials said they were making “continuous progress in our fight against the virus.” were” and insisted that there was no need to reconsider their origins. strategy. Although there are increasing reports of so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, they are relatively uncommon, and those that lead to serious illness, hospitalization, or death are especially so.
But the rise in infections and hospitalizations in some parts of the country, even if mostly confined to those who have chosen not to vaccinate, has presented Mr Biden with an emerging challenge that is looming large over economic recovery and his own may jeopardize the political situation.
The stock market is staggering. His administration is under renewed pressure to reimpose the mask mandate, as Los Angeles County did this week. And the president’s top aides have been on the defensive about his strategy to roll back the pandemic.
“It’s disappointing,” Mr Biden admitted during the town hall event on CNN on Wednesday night.
The rise of the variant could also change the equation for some Republicans, who are seeing many of their own voters hospitalized — or worse. Louisiana Representative Steve Scalis, the No. 2 House Republican, got his first shot on Sunday in what appeared to be “another spike” in the pandemic. “I believe in the science of vaccination,” Fox News host Sean Hannity declared on his show.
On Capitol Hill on Thursday, House Republican leaders and elected doctors only reluctantly signaled their support for vaccination, though that support was also mixed.
“If you’re at risk, you should get this vaccine,” said Andy Harris, a Maryland physician, “We urge all Americans to talk to their doctors about the risks of COVID, talk to their doctors about the benefits.” talk about To get vaccinated and then to decide. “
July 22, 2021, 1:43 am ET
“This vaccine is a drug, and like any other drugs, it has side effects and is a personal decision,” said Republican Representative Greg Murphy of North Carolina.
Their news conference was advertised as an attempt to “discuss the need for immunizations to individuals”. But it was dominated by efforts to promote an unproven theory that the Chinese released a virulent, man-made virus onto the world and accuse Democrats of covering it up.
Vaccines are working to keep people who have received the shots from serious risk, but the pandemic-tracking charts – which have been dwindling for months – were announced by Mr. Biden as proof that his approach is working. Was doing – moving fast upwards.
With the new version becoming increasingly widespread, questions are being raised in people’s minds about whether they need to step back from restaurants, movie theaters, bars, sporting events and their offices again. What seemed obvious – and mostly positive – choices only a few days ago now seem dirty.
White House officials on Thursday deflected questions about whether people who had been vaccinated should start wearing masks indoors again, as health officials in Los Angeles County ordered a few days ago. White House coronavirus coordinator Jeffrey D. Ziants said only that current CDC guidance is not required.
“It’s up to every single American to do their part,” he said. “We know that everyone’s vaccination journey is different. We are ready to get more Americans vaccinated whenever they are ready.”
Amidst the worry, one thing is clear: the variant has again raised hopes of an end to the pandemic and a new fear on the horizon – that a much-anticipated return to work and school could be disrupted after spending much of the country . About 18 months in home confinement.
“I’m worried about the fall,” said Representative Lauren Underwood, a Democrat from Illinois and a registered nurse. “August is going to be tough. Going back to school will be difficult. We’re going to see more illness and more deaths.”
Andy Slavitt, a public health expert who recently left the Biden White House coronavirus response team, said the administration would not consider mandating vaccinations on the military or federal task force unless the Food and Drug Administration did not grant permanent approval to coronavirus vaccines, which are now under emergency use authorization.
But, he said, final approval for the Pfizer vaccine is “within weeks to a few months.” Once that happened, he said, “everything should be on the table, and I can tell you that’s the attitude inside the White House.”
Public school systems may also mandate vaccinations to the point that they mandate vaccines for polio, measles, mumps and rubella – with some exceptions for religious or health reasons. This will increase the rate of vaccination rapidly.
Beyond the mandate, there are some obvious policy changes, as Congress has already showered health officials with funding for vaccination campaigns and made vaccines more widely available. Representative Ami Bera, a Democrat from California who is a physician, suggested the Biden administration run a public advertising campaign along the lines of smoking cessation campaigns that once showed a dying man smoking through his tracheotomy. had gone.
“Let’s put an ad with a 20-year-old boy: ‘I didn’t take this seriously. I got it and I killed my grandmother,'” he said.
Republicans have insisted on refusing to back down.
“You don’t have to call things off,” said Senator Roger Marshall, a Kansas doctor. “Look, as far as I know, not a single child under the age of 18 has died of COVID, unless they also have some kind of serious health condition.”
Deaths among US children are very low — 346 as of July 15 — but some of them are likely not to have underlying health conditions.
So far, even Republicans have resisted sounding alarm bells among the conservative population. Kaiser Family Foundation reported in late June That 86 percent of Democrats had at least one shot, compared to 52 percent of Republicans.
Policymakers feel hindered in large part because once Americans resume life without masks and other restrictions, it will be difficult to go back. Vaccine and mask mandates will almost certainly prompt a dire response, but they could also save lives.
“We’ve all got this psychology, well, it’s over, but intellectually we know it’s not over,” said Maryland Representative Steny H. Hoyer. He asked, “How can we have a society that had an overwhelming sense of being locked up in a mask, then freed to go back?”