Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
Biden’s “wartime” virus strategy
On his first full day in office, President Biden unveiled a “full-scale wartime effort” to confront the coronavirus, a highly coordinated federal response that included a dozen executive orders or actions aimed at curbing the pandemic.
“We’re in a national emergency,” Mr. Biden said at the White House event announcing the plan. “And it’s time we treated it like one.”
The 200-page national strategy looks to ramp up the manufacturing of Covid supplies, increase the nation’s testing capacity, and reduce the spread of the virus — while reaching out to the workers and communities of color disproportionately affected by the virus.
Among the orders was one requiring mask-wearing in airports and in many “trains, airplanes, maritime vessels, and intercity buses.” Another directed federal agencies to issue guidance on how to safely reopen schools and businesses while protecting workers and teachers. Other actions included calls for better data collection systems, programs to find more Covid treatments, and the establishment of a health equity task force focused on populations hit hard by the virus.
The strategy is organized around seven goals that include restoring trust with the American people by conducting “regular expert-led, science-based briefings” and advancing equity “across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.”
Experts have questioned two pillars of the plan. The first is ramping up the supply of vaccines by invoking the Defense Production Act. The problem, they say, is that both Pfizer and Moderna are already producing doses at full capacity — collectively shipping 12 million to 18 million doses a week.
The second pillar under scrutiny is the administration’s goal of getting 100 million doses in arms in 100 days.
The country is already on pace to meet that target, vaccinating around a million people a day, so if the Biden administration wants to speed things up, experts say, the focus should be on addressing problems at state and local vaccination centers. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those centers are administering as little as 46 percent of the doses that the federal government is shipping out.
Has the U.S. passed the peak?
After months of soaring case numbers, the U.S. is beginning to show some signs that the latest surge is slowing.
New cases have dropped significantly in the last week, falling to a seven-day average of about 194,000 on Wednesday from about 246,000 a week earlier — a roughly 20 percent dip. Across the country, 30 states are reporting sustained declines in cases, and no states with low case counts are reporting rises. It’s a striking difference from mid-December, when nearly every state was seeing record numbers of new infections. Even hospitalizations are starting to decline.
While these indicators are positive, it’s still too early to know if the U.S. has definitively turned a corner, or if it’s simply plateauing before another spike. The biggest wild cards are the new, faster-spreading variants, which are finding footholds across the country, even as the vaccination campaign is moving more slowly than anticipated.
Britain offers a sobering lesson. The country was among the first to begin inoculating its population, but a new, more contagious variant was already rapidly spreading, and hospitals have been pushed to their limits. Hundreds of soldiers have been dispatched to aid medical centers, and organ transplant centers have stopped performing urgent operations. Over the last week, the country has suffered more deaths per capita than any other country.
The U.S. is seeing encouraging signs, but health officials stress that the pandemic is not even close to over and Americans cannot let down their guard. Infection rates, while falling, are still incredibly high, and more than 4,300 people in the U.S. died from the virus yesterday, the second highest daily total of the pandemic.
Three locally transmitted coronavirus cases were confirmed in Shanghai, China’s largest city, as fears rose over another large-scale outbreak in the country where the virus was first detected.
Sri Lanka reopened its airports to foreign arrivals for the first time in 10 months despite a surge in new coronavirus cases, including that of a minister photographed drinking a shaman’s tonic that some in the island nation believe protects against the disease.
In the U.S., thousands of people across the country had their vaccination appointments abruptly canceled in the last few days, after vaccine shipments to local health departments fell short of what was expected.
Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.
What else we’re following
Washington, D.C., plans to give residents with a wide range of health conditions — including being overweight — priority to get the vaccine, but The Washington Post reports that some experts say the decision doesn’t make sense.
Melinda Wenner Moyer, a science and health writer, argues in the Times Opinion section that if you’re offered a vaccine, you should take it, “no matter how worthy — or unworthy — you feel.”
What you’re doing
I am enjoying going braless all day, every day except when going to the grocery store. I am getting more craft projects finished and taking walks every day with my husband, discovering new trails in our area, which has many urban trails we have never been on before.
— Mary, Bellingham, Wash.
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