WASHINGTON: Two weeks after celebrating America’s near “independence” from the coronavirus, President Joe Biden is faced with the troubling reality of rising cases and deaths, and the limitations of his ability to combat the persistent vacillation of responsible vaccines. of the recession of the summer.
Covid-19 cases have tripled in the past three weeks and hospitalizations and deaths are increasing among unvaccinated people. While rates are still well below their January highs, officials are concerned about reversed trend lines and what they see as unnecessary illness and death. And the cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.
While the national emergency may have faded, authorities say the outbreak is now a more localized crisis in communities where not enough people are rolled up.
“Look, the only pandemic we have is the unvaccinated,” Biden said Friday, echoing comments made earlier that day by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The growing numbers are driven by large pockets of infection among the more than 90 million eligible Americans who have not yet received vaccines. Just four states with low vaccination rates accounted for 40% of new cases last week, and nearly half of them came from Florida alone.
However, there is little appetite in the White House for a return to the broad mandates of masks or other measures, as 161 million Americans are already fully vaccinated.
Reflecting that mindset, Walensky said Friday that in low-vaccination areas with cases on the rise, “local lawmakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful to their community.”
Some communities are taking action. Los Angeles County on Thursday reinstated its requirement that masks be worn in most indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, and health officials in Las Vegas recommended Friday that workers and customers at the access point tourist wear face covers while indoors.
With three highly effective vaccines licensed for use in the US, the Biden administration believes that the most effective way to attack the virus is not to try to slow the spread with mass masking and such, something the US showed. It was not very good last year but I keep insisting on the importance of vaccines.
It is not an easy solution. Many Americans remain resistant or unmotivated to receive vaccines, despite months of often creative efforts by federal and state officials and the private sector to disseminate information about vaccine safety and accessibility.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy added that while government can play an important role, “this has to be an ‘all of the above’ strategy involving everyone,” including schools, employers, technology companies and companies. people.
In recent days, the administration has focused on younger Americans. He recruited pop star Olivia Rodrigo for a one-day visit to the White House on Wednesday with Biden and leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, which was well documented on social media. Younger people are at the lowest risk for adverse outcomes from the virus and have been shown to be among those least likely to be vaccinated.
But another huge group has proven to be an even more irritating challenge: Republicans. The White House has long recognized that given the rampant misinformation about vaccines and the nation’s partisan divisions, it would have little success in convincing the Republican Party to join. Instead, administration officials have stepped up criticism in recent days of public officials and social media companies for spreading or not condemning the spread of vaccine misinformation among the Republican Party.
“They’re killing people,” Biden said Friday of social media companies, speaking a day after Murthy, the surgeon general, warned that false information about the spread of vaccines on platforms like Facebook posed a risk to public health. of the nation.
Efforts to get feedback from the major platforms were not immediately successful.
The government’s new expression of frustration comes amid near-disbelief that tens of millions of Americans continue to refuse to be vaccinated, unnecessarily prolonging the pandemic and costing lives, as health officials emphasize that nearly all cases and serious deaths can now be prevented.
More than 99% of Covid-19 deaths and 97% of hospitalizations occur among people who have not been vaccinated, according to the CDC.
The pandemic is now “one that predominantly threatens unvaccinated people,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday.
He said the Biden administration expects cases to increase in the coming weeks due to the spread in communities with low vaccination rates. But Zients added that there is a sign that the increase in cases is prompting more people in those communities to seek the vaccine, reporting that “states with the highest case rates are seeing their vaccination rates rise” faster than the national average “.