The Biden administration on Wednesday held its first coronavirus briefing. Here's what officials said about where America's novel coronavirus epidemic stands and the administration's latest moves to address it.
Wednesday's virtual briefing was the first in a series of briefings on the epidemic that the administration plans to hold at least three times a week. Andy Slavitt, a former acting CMS administrator and a senior adviser on the pandemic for the Biden administration, on Wednesday said, "The White House respects and will follow the science" on the pandemic, and therefore "scientists will speak independently" about the state of America's coronavirus epidemic during the briefings.
CDC predicts US could see 90K additional Covid-19 deaths over the next month
During Wednesday's briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases and related deaths in the United States have leveled off over the past week from spikes the country had seen following recent holidays. However, she added, "While I am encouraged by these trends, our case rates remain extraordinarily high, and now is the time to remain vigilant."
According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Wednesday reported about 155,629 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Thursday morning, officials had reported a total of about 25.6 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began—up from about 25.4 million cases reported as of Wednesday morning.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 163,182—which is down by 34% when compared with the average from two weeks ago, when the United States was seeing its worst peak yet in newly reported cases.
As of Thursday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia, which have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week.
The Times' data also showed that, as of Thursday morning, the daily average of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in Puerto Rico; Washington D.C.; and the remaining 46 states (except Hawaii), which all had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission.
In Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, meanwhile, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Thursday morning, the Times' data shows.
U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high as of Wednesday, though the number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has decreased significantly from the high of more than 132,400 hospitalizations reported earlier this month. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 107,444 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Wednesday, including 20,497 who were receiving care in an ICU and 6,806 who were on a ventilator.
The United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus also declined over the past week, though it remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 4,101 new deaths linked to the virus on Wednesday. As of Thursday morning, officials had reported a total of about 429,312 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 425,208 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning
But Walensky said that, if America continues to see its current rates of newly reported coronavirus cases and deaths, CDC projects that the country could have up to 90,000 more coronavirus deaths over the next four weeks, reaching between 479,000 and 514,000 total deaths linked to the virus by Feb. 20.
"I know this is not news we all want to hear, but this is something we must say so we are all aware," Walensky said. However, she added, "[i]f we are united in action, we can turn things around."
Biden administration officials—including President Biden—have called on Americans to double down on public health measures intended to curb the novel coronavirus's spread while his administration works to ramp up the country's Covid-19 vaccine rollout. For instance, Biden on Tuesday urged Americans to wear masks to help prevent the virus's spread, saying it could save tens of thousands of lives over the next few months.
"In the next few months, masks—not vaccines—are the best defense against Covid-19," Biden said Tuesday. He added, "Experts say that wearing masks from now just until April would save 50,000 lives who otherwise will pass away if we don't wear these masks."
Officials announce new measures to speed up America's vaccine rollout
Officials during Wednesday's briefing also announced several new steps the administration is taking to help speed up America's Covid-19 vaccine rollout, which saw a slower-than-expected start.
CDC data shows that, as of Wednesday morning, the federal government had distributed about 47.2 million doses of the United States’ two authorized Covid-19 vaccines, which each require that patients receive two doses of the inoculations a few weeks apart. According to CDC's data, a total of about 24.7 million doses of the vaccines had been administered to Americans as of Wednesday morning. Of those, about 20.7 million Americans had received "one or more doses," and about 3.8 million had received two doses, the data shows.
Jeff Zients, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, explained that one reason the number of doses that have been administered is lower than the number of doses distributed is because states are reserving some of the distributed doses to provide patients who received their first dose of a vaccine with their second shots.
"Some of what the states have right now is inventory to do the very, very important second shot," Zients said. "I think it's important that when you're looking at state's inventories that you recognize that some of that inventory is being held for the very important second shot."
But Zients said the Biden administration is exploring ways of speeding Covid-19 vaccine production, which could help to increase the country's vaccine supply overall. For example, the White House's Covid-19 response team suggested the administration may use the Defense Production Act call to compel drug manufacturers that are not making Covid-19 vaccines to produce America's currently authorized vaccines—which are manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna.
Biden also has said he'll use the Defense Production Act to help meet America's supply needs in other areas with immediate shortages, including shortages in dead-space needle syringes and protective equipment.
In addition, the administration is taking action to increase America's health care workforce so that providers have more capacity to administer Covid-19 vaccines, officials said. Zients explained that the administration plans to amend the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act to allow retired or inactive doctors and nurses to administer Covid-19 vaccines and licensed providers to administer vaccines across state lines.
"This action by HHS will help get more vaccinators in the field," Zients said.
Fauci says scientists are working to target new coronavirus variants
But Walensky stressed that, overall, Americans must continue to protect themselves and others against the novel coronavirus, particularly because new, more-contagious coronavirus variants have been detected in the United States—and they could cause another spike in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser for the Biden administration's Covid-19 response efforts, said the federal government and scientists will continue monitoring the new variants and how they might affect Covid-19 vaccine efficacy and treatments.
When it comes to vaccines, he said scientists and drugmakers have many ways they could adjust the inoculations to ensure they maintain their effectiveness against new coronavirus variants, if needed. For instance, Fauci said the federal government is currently working with drugmakers on a potential "booster" shot for the United States' authorized vaccines that could help protect against new coronavirus variants.
In addition, the White House Covid-19 Response Team said the government is collaborating with the manufacturers of monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19 to target certain new coronavirus variants (Miller/Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press, 1/27; Samuels, The Hill, 1/27; Bonifield, CNN, 1/27; Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 1/27; King, FierceHealthcare, 1/27; Spalding, Reuters, 1/27; Feuer, CNBC, 1/27; Lienhard, Inside Health Policy, 1/27 [subscription required]; New York Times, 1/28; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 1/28; CDC data, updated 1/27).