Expressing the need for better communication with the public about the coronavirus, President Biden's COVID-19 response team held its first press briefing Wednesday — the first formal White House briefing on the pandemic since Nov. 19.
The administration said it will schedule three briefings a week. The next one will be on Friday.
“The president strongly believes that the scientists who are leading the effort should communicate directly to the American people,” said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, who ran the briefing. Others who attended included Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was a fixture at Trump administration briefings, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced it would purchase an additional 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine as part of a plan to inoculate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer. The administration also said it would begin releasing 10 million vaccine doses each week to states, up from 8.6 million currently.
“This is a wartime effort,” Biden said.
To assist with that effort, Zients said the Department of Health and Human Services would be amending the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act to recruit retired doctors and nurses to administer vaccines and ease regulations to allow them to do so in states other than where they were licensed.
Biden signed executive orders last week aimed at increasing testing and vaccination, directing more funding for the production of personal protective equipment, providing a framework to reopen K-12 schools and tightening travel restrictions to and from the country.
“This is a national emergency,” Zients said. “Everything is on the table.”
Walensky said she was encouraged by a recent decline in the number of daily new cases, but also relayed a grim forecast: that nearly 100,000 more Americans will die from complications of COVID-19 in the next three and a half weeks.
According to the CDC’s most recent projections, the U.S. death toll will rise to between 479,000 and 514,000 by Feb. 20.
“Now is the time to remain vigilant,” Walensky said. “I know this is not news we all want to hear, but this is something we must say so we are all aware.”
The new forecast comes as variants of the virus that may be more transmissible, more lethal or both have been spreading widely in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, and are beginning to turn up in the U.S.
Fauci, now Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the variants have not been found to be resistant to the existing vaccines. But he also said the White House response team is working with vaccine manufacturers to develop alternatives, or “boosts,” that might be needed against new strains.
“We always want to be a step or two ahead,” Fauci said.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the Trump administration formed a coronavirus task force that held regular press briefings, with Trump or Vice President Mike Pence often leading them. But Trump was widely criticized for downplaying the outbreak and making false or misleading claims about testing, treatment and the death toll.
Later, as the election neared and his focus on the pandemic waned, Trump abandoned the briefings altogether.
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