As states across the country continue to grapple with fallout from a deadly polar vortex, senior health officials at Biden fear the one-day emergency will also lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases , hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.
Over the past few days, senior administration officials have rushed to assemble a federal response to the winter emergency, primarily in Texas, but also in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and other states in the Northwest and Southwest. South. As part of that response, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinated the shipment of 60 generators, meals, blankets, water, diesel, and other rescue supplies to Texas. President Joe Biden has approved emergency declarations in several states and he has personally spoken with dozens of local and state officials in Texas to see what more can be done to help those in need.
Beyond assessing and resolving the obvious risks associated with a lack of electricity, water, or access to reliable health care, administration officials strive to understand the entire The scale of the COVID-19 problems caused by the storm, including the closure of vaccination sites in more than six. States and delay in shipping nearly 6 million doses of vaccine. Officials say their biggest fear is that the increase in transmission between people who gather indoors to find warmth will spike in new cases as vaccination slows in the state in due to weather conditions. The state was set to dramatically expand vaccination before the storm hit by setting up a mass vaccination site in coordination with Pentagon and FEMA officials. Site set-up personnel were late in arriving in Texas due to snow.
“Look at the trends in hospitalizations and deaths from illnesses. They were really going radically in the right direction. I just hope we bounce back and I think we will, ”said Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, in an interview on Friday. “It’s a setback. We have to keep doing whatever we can – doing the same things that we have done and that we know are working. I know, it’s hard to do that. When you are not at home, because the pipes have exploded, you and your family are freezing and you may have to go to the shelter. Obviously, this is not an optimal way to prevent the spread of disease. But I hope this will be fixed quickly.
Officials also fear that the situation on the ground, mainly the lack of water and electricity in hospitals, especially in rural communities, will lead to the deaths of those already seeking care for the virus. A senior Biden official said there was no reliable way to track COVID-19 cases and deaths in real time, but that they expected the health department of the State of Texas is reporting both COVID-19 related deaths and other deaths caused by the storm in the coming weeks. .
“It can take weeks, sometimes months for these deaths to reach the federal government database,” a senior Biden official said. “But we’re probably going to see a series of hypothermia and carbon monoxide deaths as well as COVID-related deaths. The question will be whether these COVID deaths occurred due to a lack of potency or for explainable reasons. “
Concerns about transmission come as the Biden administration is working overtime to control the spread of COVID-19, in part by stepping up vaccination. Over 73 million doses have been shipped and approximately 58 million have been administered. And the Biden administration recently signed other deals to ensure doses continue to flow at a faster rate in the months to come. But the emergence of new, more deadly variants has complicated that effort, although there is some evidence that vaccines will always offer protection against them. This has forced health officials to double down on calls for Americans to more rigorously adhere to public health guidelines – the same ones authorities have been recommending for more than a year – to reduce transmission.
“The continued spread of more transmissible variants could jeopardize the progress we made last month … if we let our guard down,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a conference press release Wednesday. . “We’re not at the point where we think the current level of immunization is what brings down the current level of disease. We believe much of the disease outbreak occurred during the holidays, linked to travel. We descend from it. I would say very loudly that if you are relying on our current immunization level rather than other mitigation efforts to get us to stay low… we shouldn’t be resting in that comfort.
The urgency of the winter storm has worried senior officials in the Biden administration that they will once again face an uphill battle trying to control the spread of the virus as they start to progress. They are trying to avoid a situation. where states will have to force residents to return. indoors, which reduces the capacity of the restaurant and the gym.
Fauci said the United States “by no means” has the pandemic under control – that community transmission numbers are too high across the country to start rolling back public health measures.
“If you have such a high level of background infections, as we had a month ago, when we were getting 300,000 new infections a day, then it becomes almost impossible to do identification, isolation and search for effective contacts, ”Fauci said. “Once the baseline of infections is really low, once more people are vaccinated, you can start to gradually withdraw from some of the strict public health measures. And by gradually moving back, I mean restaurants start to open, increasing the capacity with which they open … outdoor sports and spectators are watching them. We need to do it gradually instead of saying, “Okay, the numbers are going down. Let’s just light everything up again. ”
Fauci said that is precisely what happened under the Trump administration last summer: The country reopened before transmission was brought under control.
“There is a dynamic of epidemics, which when they accelerate upward, they have a momentum to self-propagate with more cases and more cases,” he said. “When you throw the momentum in the opposite direction, the same thing happens, fewer and fewer people get infected.”
Yet even if the United States controls transmission, there is still a chance that new variants will emerge that will pose an even greater threat, Fauci said.
“What concerns me is that although we achieve a very, very significant level of suppression of the baseline level of the virus in the United States, and the virus is still raging in the rest of the world, generally the virus developing world that does not have the capacity or resources to immunize, there will always be this persistent threat of new variants coming, and essentially bypassing vaccine protection, ”said Fauci. “It’s a global pandemic. And the only way to fight him is globally, because otherwise he will continue to be a sword of Damocles hanging over us.
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