Political divisions in America are partly to blame for pushing the nation’s COVID-19 death toll over 500,000, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.
Fauci, speaking on CNN, declined to call out former President Donald Trump specifically, but said months of downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic by political leaders discouraged mitigation efforts such as mask wearing and social distancing promoted by public health experts.
“You are trying to signal the country to really buckle down and address the kinds of mitigation strategies we put forth,” said Fauci, a top health adviser to President Joe Biden. “And signals come saying ‘this isn’t so bad, we’re in pretty good shape…’ That was not helpful.”
Fauci said it was painful to hear people calling the pandemic “fake news” while hospitals were overrun with virus patients
“I mean, how could you possibly say that when people in your own state, your own city, your own county are dying?” Fauci said.
Fauci made his comments hours after President Joe Biden remembered the 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19 at a Monday evening ceremony outside the White House.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate,” Biden said. “While we’re fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”
Also in the news:
►The House is focusing this week on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Democrats in Congress aim to pass the whole proposal by mid-March. It currently includes a new round of checks for Americans, renewal of the Paycheck Protection Program and an extension of a federal boost for unemployment benefits.
►States will need to administer annual standardized exams to students in 2021, but they can modify or delay the tests, the U.S. Department of Education said Monday.
►Amid the national debate about reopening schools during the pandemic, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests teachers may be more likely to transmit the virus than students.
►California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday plans to sign a state-sized coronavirus relief package that will include $600 one-time payments for 5.7 million people with low-to-moderate incomes. The bill was approved Monday by state lawmakers.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 500,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 111.7 million cases and 2.47 million deaths. More than 75.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 64.1 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Language and cultural barriers have made it difficult for many people of color, immigrants and non-English-speaking communitiesto get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s how we break them down.
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Community health centers counted on to vaccinate low-income patients
The Biden administration is targeting community health centers, which serve about 30 million patients nationwide, as vaccine distribution hubs. Two-thirds of those patients live at or below poverty, half are racial or ethnic minorities, and most are uninsured or on Medicaid. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, announced earlier this month the administration will begin shipping doses to 250 centers, at least one in each state or territory. At the Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Chief Operating Officer Janice Robinson said more than 3,000 patients are on waiting lists for a shot throughout the network’s 17 community health centers,
“We don’t have enough,” Robinson said. “This will definitely make a change.”
Biden presses social distancing, mask wearing in White House ceremony
Biden urged Americans to wear masks and take other steps to prevent spread of the virus at the somber White House ceremony honoring the 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19. Biden pointed out the death toll from the pandemic is higher than the number of U.S. service members killed in battle during World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.
“The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations,” Biden said of the virus victims. “Born in America, emigrated to America. Just like that so many of them took their final breath alone in America. ”
The U.S., with about 4% of the world’s population, has recorded 25% of the COVID-19 cases and 20% of the fatalities. Experts warn that about 90,000 more deaths are likely in the next few months, despite the country’s massive vaccination campaign. The White House team pandemic team said this weekend that despite the precipitous drop in cases this month, infection levels remain above last summer’s peak and life won’t return to normal for quite some time.
Johnson & Johnson plans to provide 20M vaccine doses by end of March
Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the greenlight from federal regulators. J&J disclosed the figure in written testimony ahead of a Congressional hearing Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.
The company reiterated that it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.
U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.
Why get COVID vaccine if you still have to wear a mask? Immediate benefits, experts say
Get a COVID-19 vaccine and you’ll be counseled to keep wearing a mask and keep staying away from other people. So, what’s the point? There’s an immediate benefit to the individual who gets a vaccine, said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response. “People are interested in taking the vaccine,” he said at a Monday news conference, because “they don’t want to be sick and they don’t want to die.”
Getting two shots of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces an individual’s risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by about 95%, according to large research trials.
But life won’t get back to something like normal for the broader society until national infection rates come down further, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
– Karen Weintraub
Contributing: The Associated Press