As COVID cases surge, White House pushes for boosters and new congressional funding

As COVID cases surge, White House pushes for boosters and new congressional funding

As COVID cases surge, White House pushes for boosters and new congressional funding

WASHINGTON — States with low coronavirus vaccine refresh rates could see a spike in COVID-19 deaths as Omicron variant strains spread across the U.S., the White House Pandemic Response Coordinator dr Ashish Jha issued a warning on Sunday.

“An important pattern is emerging in the Northeast that is helping to define the way forward,” Jha wrote on Twitter. He and others have tried to allay concerns about the new surge in cases while pointing to readily available means of keeping people out of hospitals – and morgues.

dr  Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a news conference April 26.

dr Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, at a news conference on April 26. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Infection rates in New England and the mid-Atlantic have been rising for weeks, driven by BA.2, a Subvariant of omicron. Other subvariants including BA.2.12.1, BA.2.13, BA.4, and BA.5 have also been discovered, with BA.2.12.1 gaining traction particularly in the United States. These new subvariants “show potentially higher portability over BA.2” according to a recent study.

Previous infection by the original Omicron variant appears to offer little protection against reinfection by the latest subvariants. And although these new strains also have the ability to break through the vaccine firewall, Booster shots appear to increase protection — making the booster rates a particularly powerful indication of how states could fare in the coming weeks.

“We must accept that COVID-19 is here with us and what must be done is use the tools at our disposal to live with the disease while protecting those vulnerable.” dr Leana Wen, professor of public health at George Washington University said Yahoo News in a text message.

Not all states have embraced these tools—vaccines, boosters, and treatments—with the same enthusiasm. Masking has become a matter of choice, and democratic states are as open as those ruled by Republicans. The nation marked its 1 millionth death from COVID-19 last week.

“It is extremely difficult to avoid being infected with the coronavirus,” Wen said.

People ride the subway in New York without face coverings in April.

People ride the subway in New York without face coverings in April. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

The White House is also warning that the nation will not be prepared for an autumn wave unless Congress provides $22.5 billion in funding. that the Biden administration predicts could infect 100 million Americans. “That’s the most important thing,” a White House official who works on pandemic response told Yahoo News of a new round of funding. Jha repeated this message. “If Congress doesn’t do that now, we’ll go into this fall and winter without the skills we’ve developed over the past two years.” he told ABC on Sunday.

With summer approaching and new sub-variants of the coronavirus spreading, along with dwindling congressional funding and Americans’ dwindling patience, the Biden administration faced a dilemma of how to describe the current pandemic moment. There is unlikely to be the kind of declaration of victory that President Biden offered from the White House on Independence Day last year.

But there also seems little appetite for the kind of restrictions that followed the original Omicron wave earlier this year, as schools and businesses shut down again and some feared 2022 would look too much like 2020. The vast majority of Americans have some form of immunity to the coronavirus, either through a previous infection or through vaccination. And while the new strains of Omicron are more easily transmitted, they don’t cause more serious illnesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress will observe a minute's silence on February 7, 2022 to honor the 900,000 deaths in the United States from the pandemic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress observe a minute’s silence on February 7 to celebrate 900,000 deaths in the United States from the pandemic. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

“My expectation is that this next wave will be a lot smaller than the one we had in January,” said Julie Swann, a North Carolina state professor of public health said USA Today.

In other words, keep calm and move on – as long as you’re vaccinated and refreshed, assess your risk correctly, mask yourself on public transport and isolate if you get sick. Some might find such qualifications onerous, but public health officials — and many elected Democratic leaders — insist they are a prerequisite for a healthy return to normal life.

“We have entered the endemic phase where we (unfortunately) accept that COVID will not go away while ramping up resources for our patients and highest-risk populations.” Washington, DC, Physician Lucy McBride said Yahoo News. “We cannot eliminate risk; we can only soften it. And we know how to do that: with vaccines, ventilation and vigilance to protect the vulnerable.”

The Gridiron Club Gala and White House Correspondents Association Dinner, both held in Washington, DC in April, saw attendees test positive for the virus. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has tested positive for the coronavirus Last monthalso Vice President Kamala Harris; New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her own asymptomatic coronavirus infection On Sunday.

But while some denounced these as examples of society reopening prematurely, others argued that communities that had taken the right measures were entitled to return to normal.

President Biden speaks during the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 30.

President Biden at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner on April 30. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Jha was among those attending the Correspondents Association gala, as was the President. Neither wore a mask. The event reportedly upset Dr. Anthony Fauci, the President’s chief medical adviser. He had been asked to attend only to announce he would be staying away from the celebrations, which had been canceled for the past two years; Politico then reported that Fauci saw the dinner as “a disturbing sign that many Americans no longer view COVID as a serious threat.”

Jha’s thread on Twitter was a sort of rebuttal to Fauci, who himself had recently said the “pandemic emergency” was over, only to revise that comment after criticism.

The US as a whole is now averaging about 70,000 new cases per day. In contrast, March saw just 25,000 new cases per day nationwide. But public health officials have been saying for months that infection rates themselves are a poor indicator of the state of the pandemic. Guidelines revised earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized hospitalizations as a more accurate indicator of a community’s level of risk.

As Jha noted, spikes in infections in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island aren’t as concerning as they were in 2020. “We’re seeing a real split between cases and deaths,” he wrote. COVID-19 deaths typically follow several weeks after peaks in infection. They have remained exceptionally low across New England and the mid-Atlantic states, suggesting the surge that began there in March has killed few people.

A woman performs a coronavirus test at a pop-up testing site in New York on May 3.

A woman performs a coronavirus test at a pop-up testing site in New York on May 3. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Jha pointed out that the death rate (the number of deaths divided by the number of cases) in parts of the Northeast has fallen to 0.3%, about a fifth of what it used to be. New York City, once the center of the coronavirus epidemic with thousands of deaths daily, now sees about five COVID-19 deaths per day.

High booster rates help explain the difference. Protection from the original vaccine dose decreases over time but can be restored with a booster dose. Individuals over the age of 50 are now eligible for a second booster shot.

What was once considered the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” broke again with different booster rates. Only 30% of the US population is boosted. Rates are highest in the Northeast, with 83% of people over age 65 — the population most likely to have serious illnesses — in Vermont. In contrast, only 36% of older people in North Carolina and 48% in Alabama are boosted.

Hospital admissions and deaths could increase more in those areas than in the north-east, Jha warned on Sunday. “Unfortunately, other parts of our country have lower booster rates and fewer tests, making it easier for the virus to spread without detection. And the population is less well protected – which worries me in the coming weeks/months as BA.2.12.1 spreads to other, less reinforced locations.”


How are vaccination rates impacting the recent COVID surge? Check out this Yahoo Immersive explainer to find out.

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