As COVID cases rise, White House urges recalls and new funding from Congress

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WASHINGTON — States with low coronavirus vaccine recall rates could see COVID-19 deaths rise as strains of the Omicron variant spread in the United States, House pandemic response coordinator White Dr Ashish Jha warned on Sunday.

“There is an important pattern emerging in the North East that helps chart the way forward,” Jha wrote on Twitter. He and others tried to allay concerns about the new surge in cases while pointing to readily available ways to keep people out of hospitals – and morgues.

Dr. Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a press briefing on April 26.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha at a press briefing on April 26. (Saul Loeb/TSWT 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 sub-variants including BA.2.12.1, BA.2.13, BA.4, and BA.5 have also been detected, with BA.2.12.1 notably gaining a foothold in the United States. These new subvariants “show potentially higher transmissibility than BA.2,” according to a recent study.

Prior infection with the original Omicron variant appears to offer little protection against re-infection with newer subvariants. And while these new strains also have the ability to break through the vaccine firewall, booster shots appear to enhance protection – making recall rates a particularly telling indication of how states might fare in the weeks ahead.

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

Not all states have embraced these tools — vaccines, boosters and treatments — with equal enthusiasm. Masking has become a matter of choice, and Democratic states are as open as those governed 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.

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

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

The White House also warns that unless Congress provides $22.5 billion in funding, the nation will be unprepared for a fall surge, which the Biden administration says could infect 100 million people. ‘Americans. “That’s the bottom line,” a White House official who works on pandemic response told Yahoo News of a new round of funding. Jha reiterated this message. “If Congress doesn’t do it now, we’ll enter this fall and winter without any of the capabilities we’ve developed over the past two years,” he told TSWT on Sunday.

With summer approaching and new coronavirus subvariants spreading, and with congressional funding dwindling and American patience dwindling, the Biden administration faced a dilemma of how to describe the current moment of the pandemic. 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 appears to be little appetite for the kinds of restrictions that followed Omicron’s original wave earlier this year, when schools and businesses closed again and some feared 2022 might look too much like 2020. The vast majority of Americans have some form of immunity to the coronavirus, either from prior infection or vaccination. And although the new strains of Omicron are more transmissible, they do not cause more severe disease.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress participate in a moment of silence to mark 900,000 American lives lost to the pandemic, February 7, 2022.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress participate in a moment of silence on February 7 to mark 900,000 American lives lost to the pandemic. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

“I expect this next wave to be much smaller than the one we had in January,” Julie Swann, a North Carolina state public health professor, told USA Today.

In other words, keep calm and carry on – as long as you’re vaccinated and boosted, properly assess your risk, mask up on public transport and self-isolate if you get sick. Some may find these qualifications burdensome, but public health officials — and many elected Democrats — insist they are a prerequisite for a healthy return to normal life.

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“We have entered the endemic phase where we (unfortunately) accept that COVID is not going away while increasing resources for our most-at-risk patients and populations,” Washington, DC, physician Lucy McBride told Yahoo News. “We cannot eliminate the risks; we can only mitigate it. And we know how to do that: with vaccines, ventilation and vigilance protecting vulnerable people. »

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 Mayor Eric Adams tested positive for coronavirus last month, as did Vice President Kamala Harris; New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced his own asymptomatic coronavirus infection on Sunday.

But while some have decried them as examples of society rushing prematurely to reopen, others have argued that communities that have taken the right steps are justified in getting back to normal.

President Biden speaks during the annual meeting of 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 the attendees at the Correspondents’ Association gala, as was the president. Neither of them wore a mask. The event reportedly angered Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top medical adviser. He was to attend, only to announce that he would be staying away from the festivities, which had been canceled for the past two years; Politico later reported that Fauci viewed the dinner as “a troubling sign that many Americans no longer view COVID as a serious threat.”

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

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The United States as a whole now sees an average of about 70,000 new cases a day. In contrast, there were only 25,000 new cases a day across the country in March. But public health officials have said for months that infection rates themselves are a poor indicator of the state of the pandemic. Guidelines revised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year highlighted hospitalizations as a more accurate indicator of a community’s level of risk.

As Jha noted, infection spikes in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island aren’t as concerning as they would have been in 2020. “We’re seeing a real split between cases and deaths,” he wrote. COVID-19 deaths tend to follow weeks-long peaks of infection. They remained exceptionally low in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, suggesting the spike that began there in March killed few people.

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

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

Jha pointed out that the case fatality rate (the number of deaths divided by the number of cases) had fallen to 0.3% in parts of the northeast, about a fifth of what it was before. New York City, once the center of the coronavirus outbreak with thousands dying a day, is now seeing around five COVID-19 deaths a day.

High recall rates help explain the differential. Protection from the original dose of vaccine deteriorates over time but can be restored with a booster. People over 50 are now eligible for a second booster shot.

What was once considered “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” has again fractured with differential recall rates. Only 30% of the American population is boosted. Rates are highest in the Northeast, with 83% of people over 65 – the population most likely to suffer from serious illness – increased in Vermont. In contrast, only 36% of seniors are boosted in North Carolina, and only 48% in Alabama.

These areas could see hospitalizations and deaths rise more sharply than in the northeast, Jha warned on Sunday. “Unfortunately, other parts of our country have lower recall rates and fewer tests, so the virus can more easily spread undetected. And the population is less well protected – which worries me for the coming weeks/months as BA.2.12.1 spreads to other less boosted places.

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How are vaccination rates affecting the latest COVID surge? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.

View data in 3D.  Explore the latest COVID-19 data in your browser or scan this QR code with your phone to launch the augmented reality experience.

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