Texarkana Gazette

White House launches coronaviru­s briefings

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administra­tion launched its new level-with-America health briefings Wednesday with a projection that as many as 90,000 more in the U.S. will die from the coronaviru­s in the next four weeks — a sobering warning as the government strains to improve delivery and injection of vaccines.

The tone of the hourlong briefing was in line with President Joe Biden’s promise to be straight with the nation about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. It marked a sharp contrast to what had become the Trump show in the past administra­tion, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.

The deaths projection wasn’t much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheles­s served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead.

“I know this is not news we all want to hear, but this is something we must say so we are all aware,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If we are united in action we can turn things around.”

The new briefings, set for three times a week, are part of Biden’s attempt to rebuild trust and mobilize Americans to follow health guidance on the coronaviru­s and to break down public resistance to the vaccine. Wednesday’s briefing was conducted virtually, with no shortage of technical glitches and audio gaps. Administra­tion officials appeared on Zoom from separate locations, in keeping with the Biden administra­tion’s efforts to model best practices for safe work habits in the pandemic.

One by one, the officials laid out administra­tion efforts to contain the virus, speed vaccinatio­ns and bring Americans along with the effort. “The White House respects and will follow the science, and the scientists will speak independen­tly,” promised Andy Slavitt, a senior administra­tion adviser on the pandemic.

Jeff Zients, the White House coronaviru­s coordinato­r, said the Biden administra­tion was examining additional ways of speeding vaccine production, a day after the president announced the U.S. plans to provide states with enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of summer.

But actually injecting those shots is another matter. “Most states are getting better at putting needles in arms,” Zients said. He called on Congress to swiftly pass Biden’s “American Rescue Plan.” The $1.9 trillion bill, which has given lawmakers in both parties sticker shock, includes $400 billion for measures aimed at controllin­g the virus, including dramatical­ly increasing the pace of vaccinatio­n and ensuring more widespread testing. Zients noted that the federal Department of Health and Human Services acted Wednesday to make more people available to administer vaccinatio­ns. The government will authorize retired nurses and doctors, and profession­als licensed in one state will be able to give shots in other states.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said there was reason to be concerned about the impact of some coronaviru­s mutations on vaccines, but he also said scientists have plenty of options for adjustment­s to maintain effectiven­ess.

Fauci said there was particular concern about the so-called South African variant, because lab tests have shown it can diminish the protective power of the vaccines approved to date. He stressed that the level of protection provided was still well within what he called the “cushion” of vaccine effectiven­ess, but added that the government was working with pharmaceut­ical companies on potential “booster” shots for the new variants.

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