Delta Variant surge and the Biden Administration

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26 Jul 2021, 1:14 am

Surge of covid delta variant poses new political threat to Biden and his agenda

The rapid increase in coronavirus infections driven by the delta variant over the past month is turning the country’s attention back to the pandemic and threatening to subsume President Biden’s agenda — just as the White House and its allies hoped to move on from the virus and focus on promoting the administration’s other accomplishments.

Inside the White House, top officials are growing increasingly anxious about the state of the pandemic and are gravely concerned about the situation spiraling out of control in some areas of the country with low vaccination rates, according to two people who work in the administration and two others in close touch with the White House.
Biden’s team had always expected to see additional coronavirus outbreaks, but the White House assumed the increases in infections would be “mounds” and not “peaks,” according to one top administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions.

Officials are now looking at models that predict anywhere from a few thousand new covid cases to more than 200,000 every day in the fall. One new forecast also estimates the United States could see three times the number of daily deaths from the coronavirus by October compared to now.

Stock markets have already shown jitters over the variant, with the Dow slumping more than 700 points Monday before rallying later in the week. Globally, hospitals are filling up — including in the United Kingdom, which is experiencing an outbreak so severe that the United States warned against traveling there.

More focus on covid leaves the president fewer opportunities to sell the stimulus package that Congress approved earlier this year or travel the country pressuring lawmakers to back his infrastructure plan. Other priorities that risk being squeezed include shoring up voting rights, a policing overhaul, gun control and new immigration rules.
Biden’s CNN town hall this week was dominated by questions about the virus — a marked change from his first formal news conference, during which the pandemic did not come up at all.

Americans are growing more concerned about the state of the pandemic. In an Axios-Ipsos poll conducted July 16-19, 39 percent of Americans said that returning to their pre-coronavirus life right now would be a risk, up from 28 percent in late June.

The White House has sought to place blame elsewhere

One White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said administration health experts don’t expect hospitalizations or deaths to reach the same levels seen during the height of the pandemic.

The White House has also been heartened that, in recent weeks, vaccination rates have risen faster than the national average in some states with high infection rates, such as Nevada and Florida, the person said.

Still, the delta variant surge is a serious enough threat that top White House officials and other administration officials are debating whether to urge vaccinated Americans to wear masks in more settings, people familiar with the discussion said this week.

Boosters, masks and mandates: Biden's team sorts through options for containing Covid surge among unvaccinated Americans
The Biden administration is debating a series of steps to further contain the Covid-19 pandemic, which, after 18 months, is again surging in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low.

A senior administration health official said the government is "actively exploring" how to provide extra vaccine shots to vulnerable populations, who officials now increasingly expect will require boosters, as they await the US Food and Drug Administration's full approval of the three vaccines currently authorized for emergency use. The White House on Friday announced a purchase of hundreds of millions of additional Pfizer doses, in part to be prepared in case the booster shots are needed.

Discussions are ongoing over whether to revisit mask guidelines, a decision officials say will be left to the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that nonetheless comes loaded with political baggage after the celebratory lifting of mask mandates this spring. White House aides said they did not believe any new recommendations were imminent but acknowledged they have previously received little warning when the CDC updates its guidelines. According to sources familiar with internal discussions, the health agency is reconsidering its stance on mask orders.

And Biden himself is facing pressure to back vaccine requirements among certain groups of people or in particular places, a step his team has so far been reluctant to get behind even as other leaders, including in Europe, have seen their countries' vaccination rates rise after making such a move.

But as reports of breakthrough cases, almost all of them mild, in vaccinated people become more frequent -- including this week in a White House aide -- the administration is looking for further ways to rein in the virus.

What's happening now is all the major scientific operations in this country and the 25-person group we put together are looking at all the possibilities," Biden said on Thursday, describing an all-hands approach to the situation.

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