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More shots, more funding: Biden back to basics as COVID-19 cases rise
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More shots, more funding: Biden back to basics as COVID-19 cases rise

The nation marked 1 million deaths from the virus earlier this week, and cases counts continue to climb.

  • Based on current numbers, an average of 275 people in the U.S. die every day from COVID-19.
    Sergio Santos/CC BY 2.0Based on current numbers, an average of 275 people in the U.S. die every day from COVID-19.

The White House held its first COVID-19 task force briefing in six weeks on Wednesday, as the country grapples with the possibility that surging case counts and hospitalizations across the country will flow through the summer.

In the month and a half since the task force’s last meeting, Dr. Ashish K. Jha now sits as the administration’s pandemic response coordinator and the nation is averaging around 100,000 cases a day.

Jha noted that the true number of COVID-19 infections is likely higher given the popular use of rapid at-home tests, the results of which are not always reported to health officials and included in case counts.

The rise in viral infections hasn’t hit the peak numbers seen during the winter Omicron surge, but Jha said average daily case counts are up three-fold over the last month.

While hospitalizations and infections are climbing, deaths from COVID-19 are on the decline, a phenomena Jha attributed in part to the increased use of Paxlovid and other drugs to prevent severe infection. In just the past month, the use of Paxlovid to treat COVID-19 patients has quadrupled.

Despite this, health experts remain wary about whether a future surge could bring with it a higher death rate, a fear put on edge earlier this week after the U.S. surpassed 1 million deaths from the virus.

Based on current numbers, an average of 275 people in the U.S. die every day from COVID-19, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials emphasized the continued need for boosters and vaccinations as recent studies have indicated that getting infected with more recent variants such as Omicron may not provide the same immunity from future infections that prior mutations of the virus awarded.

Jha emphasized that people can order up to eight free rapid tests per household, thanks to a new round of free tests launched on COVID.gov earlier this week. Nearly 8.5 million households have requested rapid test orders since Monday, Jha added.

In what has become a common plea from administration officials and the president himself, Jha urged Congress to pass funding for federal COVID-19 programs, money that has been stalled in the Senate for months and that health experts warn is critical to pandemic preparedness.

The $10 billion package would provide funding for free access to shots and tests, and the development of new vaccines and treatments. Federal funds that made vaccines and tests free for people without insurance have already run dry, and money that fueled research and access to new boosters is running out.

“Without additional resources, we will find ourselves in a fall or winter with people getting infected and no treatments available for them because we will have run out,” Jha said.

Jha said that the United States has not been able to negotiate with companies developing new COVID-19 therapeutics because the federal government does not have the funding to make deals.

Domestic manufacturing of tests is also in danger, Jha warned, noting that domestic producers of COVID-19 tests are laying off workers and may begin to shut down in the coming months if Congress does not continue to fund federal programs to buy tests and vaccines.

Administration officials emphasized that global vaccine distribution is critical to the fight, noting that new variations of the virus continue to evolve globally and drive spikes in cases.

“The less replication, the less mutation, the less mutation, the less infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

With case counts on the rise, the Biden administration signaled this week that they plan to keep the public health emergency in place.

Silence on the part of the administration this week about the status of the emergency portends the White House’s plans to keep its directive in place for at least the next few months. That emergency status, which lets the government dole out free vaccines and COVID-19 tests, is set to expire July 15, but the administration said they would give a two-month heads up if they planned to lift it, a deadline that came and went earlier this week without comment from the government.

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