White House COVID-19 response team: Rate of spread falling, but case rates are still 'extremely high'

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Posted at 6:04 AM, Jan 27, 2021

In its first press briefing on Wednesday, President Joe Biden's new White House COVID-19 response team said that while the spread of COVID-19 may be falling, the country still faces several challenges in fighting the virus.

"Now is the time to remain vigilant," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

In recent weeks, the seven-day rolling average of new cases of COVID-19 has decreased from about 250,000 a day to about 165,000. Hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus have also seen significant decreases.

However, Walensky said the current case rate remains "extremely high" and urged Americans to continue following common-sense public health procedures.

Among the chiefs concerns of the response team are new strains of COVID-19 that are emerging from the U.K., Brazil and South Africa. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, current COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working against the U.K. strain with only slight decreases in efficacy.

Fauci also added that data from a study of a vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson should be available "within days" and could provide more insight into a vaccine's efficacy against the Brazil and South Africa strains.

On the vaccine front, Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the response team, confirmed that there is currently no stockpile of COVID-19 vaccine reserves. However, he reiterated Biden's promise on Tuesday that millions of doses of vaccine would continue to be sent to states in the coming weeks.

Walensky also attempted to push back against vaccine skepticism during the press conference, addressing concerns against potential allergic reactions and severe side effects. Walensky said that only a handful of people per million are experiencing anaphylaxis and that the risk of COVID-19 far outweighs the risks posed by side effects.

On Tuesday, in prepared remarks, Biden addressed the dwindling vaccine supply across the country, calling it "unacceptable." He said his administration was working to purchase an additional 200 million doses of vaccine and promised a 16% increase in deliveries to states in the coming weeks.

He also upped his administration's goal in vaccinating Americans to 10 million a week moving forward. Before his inauguration, Biden had promised to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office, a goal that critics said lacked ambition.

In describing the COVID-19 response team briefings earlier this week, press secretary Jen Psaki said that briefings from the COVID-19 response team would be focused on "science," not politics.

Fauci, a member of former President Donald Trump's White House coronavirus task force, often clashed with the former president and has expressed relief with Biden's commitment to a science-based approach in several interviews this week.

"The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is — let the science speak," Fauci said last week during a White House briefing. "It is somewhat of a liberating feeling."