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Biden’s July 4th celebrations clouded by nagging concern over Delta variant of Covid-19

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Even though a crowded southern lawn represents scenes of celebration across the country, concerns about the continued spread of the virus remain strong within the administration, which announced this week that it will send response teams across the country. United States in communities where officials worry about a potentially life-threatening danger. combination: low vaccination rates and high presence of the highly transmissible form of the virus.

In private meetings, Biden asked advisers about the wider impact the highly contagious variant could have on the United States, according to those in attendance. It always receives a daily report on case rates, number of deaths and prevalence of variants. Authorities have stressed that those who are vaccinated are safe, while those who are not are most at risk.

As a sign that the pandemic is far from over, officials also said the administration plans to extend the public health emergency declaration for the pandemic that former President Donald Trump announced in 2020 when it is due to expire. this month.

And overseas travel to countries where the Delta variant has reappeared, including the UK, are still on hold, as officials hope to prevent new cases from entering the US, despite increased pressure from the US. foreign governments and the travel industry to open up. The rise of the Delta variant in the UK is the “main reason” the United States has not relaxed travel restrictions there, a senior health official told CNN. An administration official said his goal was to reopen international travel when it could be done safely, but did not provide updates on when it should happen. There are task forces between the United States and other countries that are constantly assessing the situation.

Competing impulses to celebrate progress against the virus while maintaining vigilance against further spread have colored the White House’s approach to the Second Fourth of July holiday in the era of the pandemic.

Celebrate and worry at the same time

Biden has spoken overwhelmingly on the celebratory side, sending his wife, the vice president and other senior members of his administration to declare “America’s Back Together” at parades, barbecues and fire stations across the country. Biden himself traveled to Traverse City, Mich., On Saturday, where the annual Cherry Festival is underway again after authorities canceled it last year.

There was some concern inside the White House about the July 4 party perspective, with the Delta variant sneaking through vulnerable populations in the United States, according to an official. But it was never considered to cancel the event. Guests have been advised to take a test up to three days before the party, but it is not necessary to have been vaccinated. Masks for those vaccinated will not be needed, according to current guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Do we want to do this after completely eradicating Covid? Yes of course, ”said the manager, who said there had never been any discussion of unplugging the party. “We are moving forward, with this event, with the initiatives, trying to get people vaccinated. All of this.”

On Sunday in CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jeff Zients, the president’s coronavirus response coordinator, defended the White House’s decision not to require those attending the first big party to be vaccinated, claiming that there are “very rigorous screening tests and protocols. “

“I think most of these people are vaccinated,” Zients said, adding, “But at the end of the day it’s an individual choice, we hope all individuals make the right choice here and get vaccinated.”

Biden was hoping to proclaim this weekend that 70% of American adults had received at least one injection of Covid-19. But officials admitted more than a week ago that the target would not be met as they struggle to convince still-resistant Americans to be shot. About 67% of Americans 18 and older had received at least one injection, according to CDC data reported on Saturday.

For Biden and his aides, the reality is that getting the entire country immunized will be the work of his entire presidency – and pockets of the country where immunization rates remain low will continue to experience epidemics that hamper the recovery effort at nationwide. Most American adults who plan to be vaccinated against Covid-19 have already done so, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released this week.

Although they refused to rule it out, officials currently don’t expect Biden to set any further numerical vaccination goals, given that the United States has yet to hit its last. and that the pace of vaccinations has slowed considerably, according to people familiar with it. with the debates.

Instead, authorities are simply planning to push for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated as soon as possible. A recent CNN analysis of the CDC’s most recent immunization data reveals that more than one in 10 Americans have missed their second shot. Officials say it’s more vital than ever for Americans to receive their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, as protection against the Delta strain is greatly enhanced with the extra dose.

New questions have also emerged as to whether mask warrants could return if the variant caused a spike in cases – a possibility the White House sought to publicly dispel after proclaiming the lifting of mask recommendations earlier this spring.

CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus remains a serious threat in the United States and could cause more Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in unvaccinated communities – in especially those in the Southeast and Midwest.

“Looking at state by state and county by county, it’s clear that communities where people aren’t vaccinated are communities that remain vulnerable,” Walensky said.

“It will be better next year”

She said with the Delta variant continuing to spread in the United States, the country recently saw an increase in its seven-day average of Covid-19 cases. On Wednesday, the CDC reported 14,875 new cases of Covid-19. The current seven-day country average is around 12,600 cases per day.

Biden said on Friday he was not concerned about another widespread Covid outbreak – but admitted he was wary of unvaccinated people catching the Delta variant at holiday gatherings.

“I’m concerned that people who haven’t been vaccinated have the ability to catch the variant and pass it on to others who haven’t been vaccinated,” Biden told reporters at an event on the economy. “I am not worried that there is a major epidemic.”

Biden reiterated his fears that “lives will be lost” if more people continue to resist being vaccinated.

“Don’t think of yourself, think of your family. Think of those around you,” he said. “That’s what we should be thinking about today. July 4 of this year is different from July 4 of last year and it will be better next year.”

In some ways, this weekend is when Biden predicted two months after starting his presidency, standing in the Cross Hall of the White House.

“If we do our part, if we do it together, by July 4th there is a good chance that you, your families and your friends can get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a barbecue and a barbecue. barbecue and celebrate Independence Day, ”Biden said in March, with a long red carpet stretching behind him, setting a goal in months to get the country back to normal.

Officials insist that the relative normality of this year’s vacation compared to months spent under social distancing and mask restrictions was a signal that Biden’s strategy had worked.

“We’ve made a lot of progress. I think we’re a lot further along than anyone would have expected at this point,” Zients told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, when asked why the administration failed. .

He added that the administration planned to “double our efforts to vaccinate millions more Americans in July and August.”

Much of this work has shifted to states where the combination of low vaccination rates and a high number of cases has raised fears of a rollback.

“We are once again going in the wrong direction with Covid-19 infections here in the state of Arkansas,” said Dr. Cam Patterson, University of Arkansas chancellor for medical sciences, during from the weekly state briefing last week.

“The message is: get vaccinated”

Hoping to target regional outbreaks, the White House said last week it was deploying response teams to perform state-of-the-art testing, provide treatments like monoclonal antibodies and deploy federal personnel to areas in need of personnel. support for vaccinations.

The White House coronavirus team is spearheading the effort and officials expect teams to help with everything from improving testing to providing supplies and potentially scaling up paid media efforts targeting regions with low immunizations.

Yet as response teams are dispatched to support communities, officials believe vaccinations are the number one way to stop the spread and recognize that there may be a limit to their efforts.

Already, the administration has shifted its strategy from focusing on mass vaccination sites to more targeted efforts to get people vaccinated. Health officials have focused their attention on young people in particular, who represent a large number of people as yet unvaccinated. They also remain focused on minorities, whose vaccination rates lag behind the white population.

Acknowledging concern over the variant, the Biden administration flooded the television networks with senior federal health officials last week to address concerns ahead of the July 4 weekend.

And officials have sought to balance what is arguably a time to mark progress against the virus with the lingering problem that large swathes of the country still appear to be vaccine resistant.

“You can always celebrate at the same time as you get your very, very clear message across: If you’ve been vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection. If you’re not, you should wear a mask, and you should. think very seriously about getting vaccinated, ”said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Thursday.

“So in a lot of ways nothing has really changed,” Fauci said. “We are celebrating as a country at the same time that we recognize the fact that we are in dire straits for those who have not been vaccinated. And the message is: get vaccinated.”

This story was updated with additional details on Sunday.

CNN’s Jasmine Wright and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.


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