US faces a double coronavirus surge as omicron advances
The new omicron coronavirus mutant speeding around the world may bring another wave of chaos, as it threatens to further stretch hospital workers already struggling with a surge of delta cases and upend holiday plans for the second year in a row.
A retro feel to Biden's plan for covering OTC virus testing
The Biden administration’s plan for health insurers to reimburse consumers for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests is recalling the model of a bygone era when the companies processed large volumes of claims from individuals — with paper receipts.
The Latest: Mississippi hospital to require masks
Mississippi’s only level-one trauma hospital and academic medical center will require all employees and students who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear an N95 mask while inside, a decision that a top official acknowledged would not be popular with everyone in the country’s least vaccinated state and may result in the loss of employees.
Next slide, please: Inside wonky White House virus briefings
Walensky is making an impassioned plea to Americans not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19. If the Trump briefings made for more stirring television, the Biden ones are designed to showcase the science-based side of the crisis, with a tone based more on facts than flourish. There’s a political aim too, as the White House works to maintain its high approval ratings with the public for Biden’s handling of the virus. Next slide.”AdFauci and Walensky have autonomy as to what they’re briefing on, according to a senior administration official, with the White House only having a sense of what they plan to discuss. The Biden administration sessions typically livestream on whitehouse.gov at midday and sometimes don’t make the cut on cable TV.
Tourism groups push US to eliminate travel restrictions
Airlines and other tourism-related businesses are pushing the White House to draw up a plan in the next five weeks to boost international travel and eliminate restrictions that were imposed early in the pandemic. More than two dozen groups made their request in a letter to the White House on Monday, March 22, 2021. More than two dozen groups made their request in a letter to the White House on Monday. They set a May 1 target for the government “to partner with us” on a plan to rescind year-old restrictions on international travel. The White House did not comment but referred to remarks by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday.
Biden's top aides unlikely to qualify for relief payments
WASHINGTON – At least one group in America is unlikely to get any money from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan — his own top aides. Most of Biden’s senior West Wing advisers made far more than the threshold that would qualify them for direct payments from the president’s COVID-19 relief bill, according to White House financial disclosure forms released Saturday. Others in the West Wing — whose positions don't require Senate confirmation — have had deep ties to the business world. He was listed as having a salary of $1.8 million, according to his disclosure form. Brian Deese, head of the national economic council, was previously global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, according to his disclosure.
Governors applaud Biden’s vaccine timeline, but need supply
At the same time, more than 4 million residents with certain disabilities or health concerns become eligible for a vaccine. In Virginia, state vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said the state could hit Biden’s goal earlier. But several governors cautioned it must come with a dramatic increase in vaccine supply. Now, an average of 2.2 million doses are being administered per day. By April 30, the state has set a goal of being able to give 4 million doses weekly.
Governors applaud Biden's vaccine timeline, but need supply
In Virginia, state vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said the state could hit Biden’s goal earlier. But several governors cautioned it must come with a dramatic increase in vaccine supply. “It could be a delay for people to actually get a vaccine because of the operational constraints," she said. We can’t disappoint people who eagerly want a vaccine,” said Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority. Elsewhere, governors met Biden's goal with enthusiasm.
Airline industry pushes US to standardize health papers
Airlines hope such a document would allow countries to relax travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. More than two dozen airline and business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote to the White House about the matter on Monday, March 8, 2021. However, the groups said that vaccination should not be a requirement for domestic or international travel. The groups include the main U.S. and international airline trade organizations, airline labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The White House did not immediately comment.
Local pharmacists step up in COVID-19 vaccination effort
In some small towns across the U.S., an independent pharmacy is the only local place where residents can get a COVID-19 vaccination. President Joe Biden recently celebrated the injection of the 50 millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine since his inauguration. They don’t have to pay for the COVID-19 vaccine, unlike flu and other vaccines, but they do have administrative costs they may be able to recover when patients have insurance. All told, the Federal Retail Pharmacy program has 21 companies taking part including big drugstore and grocery chains and mass merchandisers like Costco and Walmart. Besides giving COVID-19 shots in their stores, pharmacists have also set up mass immunization clinics.
President Biden vows enough vaccine for all US adults by end of May
Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses before being cleared for use on Saturday. One would make the vaccine and the other would handle inserting the vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen. Now, with a global clamor for more vaccine doses, those heavyweights are helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the first emergency authorizations from regulators. Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with vaccine production, but wouldn’t say Tuesday whether other deals are imminent.
States easing virus restrictions despite experts' warnings
Employees with the McKesson Corporation scan a box of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine while filling an order at their shipping facility in Shepherdsville, Ky., Monday, March 1, 2021. AdThe push to reopen comes as COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the states are ramping up. Johnson & Johnson shipped out nearly 4 million doses of its newly authorized, one-shot COVID-19 vaccine Sunday night to be delivered to states for use starting on Tuesday. The company will deliver about 16 million more doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June. White House vaccination coordinator Jeff Zients also acknowledged that scheduling of vaccination appointments “ remains too difficult in too many places."
Biden aims to distribute masks to millions in 'equity' push
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month as part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the government’s response to the pandemic. Biden’s plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but instead through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems, the White House announced Wednesday. Ad“Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly, not all have access, and not all masks are equal,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients. The White House is not distributing safer N95 masks, of which the U.S. now has abundant supply after shortages early in the pandemic. Biden has also required the use of masks around the White House, unlike Trump, whose White House was the scene of at least three outbreaks of the virus.
States rush to catch up on delayed vaccines, expand access
States are scrambling to catch up on coronavirus vaccinations after bad weather last week led to clinic closures and shipment backlogs. Nevada health officials are working overtime to distribute delayed shots. But limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines hampered the pace of vaccinations even before extreme weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses. Steve Sisolak said Monday that 46,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine that were delayed by weather began arriving in the state. Looking ahead to summer, Pfizer and Moderna executives said they expect to complete delivery of 300 million doses each, and J&J aims to provide an additional 100 million doses — more than enough to vaccinate every American adult.
Beyond 100M: Biden team aiming for bigger vaccine numbers
President Joe Biden speaks on U.S. supply chains, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)WASHINGTON – It sounded so ambitious at first blush: 100 million vaccination shots in 100 days. Further increases are likely, as the White House monitors the pharmacies' capacity to deliver injections. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores estimates its members alone have the capability to deliver more than 3 million doses per day. That figure has risen from fewer than 9 million doses per week to 13.5 million in Biden’s first weeks in office.
Biden defends progress on COVID as weather delays 6M shots
He went on to say that by the end of July his administration can deliver 600 million doses for Americans. But “it's one thing to have a vaccine available, the problem was how to get to people's arms.”The Pfizer plant Biden toured, near Kalamazoo, produces one of the two federally approved COVID-19 shots. "I would’ve gotten there some way.”AdWhite House adviser Slavitt said the 6 million doses delayed won’t spoil and the vaccine is “safe and sound” under refrigeration. Slavitt said about 1.4 million doses were being shipped Friday as the work of clearing the backlog begins. The Virginia Department of Health reported that it was expecting delays on about 90% of its expected 120,000 doses this week and warned that delays could cascade into next week.
Crippling weather hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution
The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures barely hovering at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and likely slipping into the single digits by Tuesday morning. After her appointment for a vaccine on Saturday was canceled, Dohogne said a neighbor's friend has been helping her navigate the vaccine enrollment process. Some shipments of the vaccine made by Pfizer were delayed in the South because of the bad weather, but the company was unaware of any vaccine spoilage, said spokesman Eamonn Nolan. Fran Goldman, 90, of Seattle, told The Seattle Times she walked 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) round trip in the snow to get her vaccine. In other developments, Pennsylvania is facing a temporary shortage of second shots of the Moderna vaccine after providers inadvertently used them as first doses.
The Latest: Hong Kong ease pandemic rules as cases decline
FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2020 file photo, people wearing masks attend a vigil for Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)HONG KONG — Hong Kong is reducing social distancing rules following a sharp drop in new coronavirus cases, including restarting indoor dining and reopening gyms. More than two-thirds of the new cases were in Seoul area, home to half of South Korea’s 51 million people. The company has contracted to provide 100 million doses — enough for 100 million Americans — by the end of June. “We just need the vaccine to arrive.”___ATLANTA — Snowy and icy weather across much of the nation has “significantly” delayed shipments of COVID-19 vaccine to Georgia, state health officials said Wednesday.
Government rushes virus gene-mapping as mutations spread
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)WASHINGTON – The U.S. is scrambling to expand DNA mapping of coronavirus samples taken from patients to identify potentially deadlier mutations that are starting to spread around the country. The U.S. now maps only the genetic makeup of a minuscule fraction of positive virus samples, a situation some experts liken to flying blind. Baldwin says the U.S. should be analyzing at least 15% of positive virus samples. “Genomic sequencing testing is how we will spot variants early before they spread,” said White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients. The CDC will have to set standards for state health officials and academic research institutions to fully share the information they glean from analyzing virus samples.
Tight supply creates reluctance over federal vaccine sites
With vaccine supplies running tight, they want assurances that the doses will come from a separate federal supply and not their own. Eager to protect more people against the coronavirus, health officials in Oklahoma jumped at the chance to add large, federally supported vaccination sites. The Biden administration's virus response plan calls for opening 100 federally supported vaccination sites by the end of February. “We just opened our first two federal vaccination centers, in California this week," Klain told NBC News. Officials in New York and Texas said the federal government told them that the vaccines distributed in the federal sites there would not count against the states’ allocations.
Airlines push White House to reject COVID-19 testing for US flights
U.S. airlines are pressing their case against requiring coronavirus testing of passengers on domestic flights. They say it would further undermine air travel, which is still running at less than half its pre-pandemic level. White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed speculation that the Biden administration could soon impose a requirement that passengers on domestic flights first pass a COVID-19 test. Airlines reacted with alarm, however, when CDC officials raised the possibility of testing the much larger number of passengers on domestic flights. Airline unions have joined the push against testing domestic passengers.
'Overwhelm the problem': Inside Biden’s war on COVID-19
Since he took office three weeks ago, Biden’s team has attacked the problem on multiple fronts. Much of the improvement in vaccination deliveries so far has been due to long-planned manufacturing ramp-ups, not the actions of the Biden team, aides acknowledge. Biden’s team pledged to give states three weeks notice on what's coming their way. Two weeks into Biden’s administration, a Quinnipiac poll showed 61% of Americans approving of the way the president is handling the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden team is already actively working with pharmaceutical companies to prepare “booster” shots for the variants, potentially annually, like flu vaccines.
Things to Know: Catholic Church got $1.5B in US virus relief
Overall, the nearly 200 dioceses in the U.S. and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion from the federal governments small business emergency relief program. That makes the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the paycheck program, according to data the U.S. Small Business Administration released following a public-records lawsuit by AP and other news organizations. Church officials say they needed government relief to pay staff because donations from the faithful slowed when churches were ordered to close. AdON THE HORIZON: As the U.S. economy undergoes an uneven recovery from the coronavirus, many small business owners face a tough decision on whether and when to take on employees. ___Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
Things to Know: Vaccine shipments coming to US pharmacies
Pharmacies have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly. — Pressure is building on U.S. school systems to reopen classrooms to students who have been learning online for nearly a year. Outdated tests failed to detect that some of the transferred inmates were already infected, and two of them later died. Suddenly, that organic lentil and mushroom soup that didn’t sound so appealing pre-pandemic has become part of weekly meal routines. ___Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
Virus will kill many more, WH projects as briefings resume
It marked a sharp contrast to what had become the Trump show in the past administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation. The deaths projection wasn't much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheless served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead. The new briefings, beginning just a week into Biden’s tenure, are meant as an explicit rejection of President Donald Trump's approach to the coronavirus outbreak. Dr. David Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University’s School of Public Health, said having briefings from health officials that are “based on serious science” would go a long way toward improving public perceptions of the vaccine. Those messages found few champions in the former administration, as Trump openly flouted science-based guidance from his own administration.
President Biden releases his COVID-19 strategy. Here’s everything you need to know
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around,” Biden said at the White House. A key difference is that under Biden, the federal government is assuming full responsibility for the COVID response. And instead of delegating major tasks to states, he is offering to help them with technical backup and federal money. Biden is seeking to expand testing and vaccine availability, with the goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. But administration officials stressed that reopening schools safely depends on increased testing.
Biden puts forth virus strategy, requires mask use to travel
New York officials are pushing for more COVID-19 vaccine doses as the effort to speed up inoculations collides with a lack of vaccine. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the city will run out of first doses of COVID-19 vaccine sometime Thursday without fresh supplies. The U.S. mask order for travel being implemented by Biden will apply to airports and planes, ships, intercity buses, trains and public transportation. As part of his COVID-19 strategy, Biden will order the establishment of a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to ensure that minority and underserved communities are not left out of the government's response. Biden is ordering FEMA to reimburse states for the full cost of using their National Guards to set up vaccination centers.
On Day One, Biden will move to reverse these 15 Trump policies
The 15 executive actions, and two directives, amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office — and each signed just one. Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one requiring masks and physical distancing on federal property and by federal employees. But Biden's blitz of executive actions went beyond the pandemic. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, held a briefing for reporters, a practice the Trump White House had all but abandoned in the final two months of the presidency.
Biden's first act: Orders on pandemic, climate, immigration
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)In his first official acts as president, Joe Biden is signing executives orders on a broad range of issues, from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change and immigration, to fulfill campaign promises. Biden also is setting in motion an evaluation of another Trump move that cut boundaries and protections for some national monuments. ___IMMIGRATIONENDING BAN ON MUSLIM TRAVELERS: Biden is ending what is variously known as the “travel ban” or the “Muslim ban,” one of the first acts of the Trump administration. Congress paused student debt payments last March as part of a virus relief package, and the Trump administration extended it twice. Biden's order does not include the type of mass debt cancellation that some Democrats asked him to orchestrate through executive action.
Plunged into virus 'dark winter,' Biden must lead US out
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden predicted he would take office amid a “dark winter,” and the outlook is only getting bleaker. “The virus is going to get worse before it gets better,” he warned. “The virus is the virus. But the biggest challenge, in their view, was years in the making by the Trump administration: declining confidence in government and institutions. “At least (Biden) has surrounded himself with excellent people and he’s doing it on the basis of science,” said Offit.
President-elect Joe Biden picks transgender woman as assistant health secretary
(Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP)WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary of health, leaving her poised to become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, Levine was appointed to her current post by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017, making her one of the few transgender people serving in elected or appointed positions nationwide. A transition spokesperson also said Tuesday that Dawn O’Connell will serve as senior counselor for coronavirus response to the health and human services secretary. O'Connell most recently served as director of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and was the senior counselor and deputy chief of staff to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell during the Obama administration.
$1,400 checks to most Americans included in Biden’s COVID-19 plan
President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during an event at The Queen theater, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Del. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden's goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, and advance his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. “Remember that a bipartisan $900 billion #COVID19 relief bill became law just 18 days ago,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. It's still the surest way to slow the COVID-19 wave, with more than 4,400 deaths reported just on Tuesday. Next Wednesday, when Biden is sworn in as president, marks the anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.
Obama reunion? Biden fills Cabinet with former WH leaders
President-elect Joe Biden is nominating former President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff Denis McDonough as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Increasingly deep into the process of selecting Cabinet members and other senior staff, the incoming Biden administration has a distinctly Obama feel. There's Denis McDonough, former President Barack Obama's chief of staff who Biden announced on Thursday would be nominated as the secretary of veterans affairs. Susan Rice, Obama's former U.N. ambassador and national security adviser, was named the director of Biden's White House Domestic Policy Council. Jeff Zients, who did stints as acting Office of Management and Budget director and a top economic adviser in the Obama White House, will return as Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator.
Trump virus coordinator Birx seeks role in Biden government
FILE - In this April 22, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Less than 10 months later, as Trump’s time in office nears its end, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator’s reputation is frayed. And after serving every president since Ronald Reagan, her future in the incoming Joe Biden administration is uncertain. Biden has already appointed transition co-chair and Obama administration alumnus Jeffrey Zients to serve as White House coronavirus coordinator. Birx certainly had fans in Biden’s orbit before and immediately after she was tapped to serve as coronavirus coordinator in the Trump White House.
Biden's health team offers glimpse of his COVID-19 strategy
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden's choices for his health care team point to a stronger federal role in the nation’s COVID-19 strategy, restoration of a guiding stress on science and an emphasis on equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments. “We are still going to have a federal, state and local partnership,” commented Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the nonprofit American Public Health Association. “These are not turf-conscious people,” said Drew Altman, CEO of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a clearinghouse for health care information and analysis. A Secretary Becerra “can't get up every morning and think only COVID,” she said. That challenge faces widespread skepticism among minorities that the health care system has their best interests in mind.
Biden’s health team offers glimpse of his COVID-19 strategy
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden’s choices for his health care team point to a stronger federal role in the nation’s COVID-19 strategy, restoration of a guiding stress on science and an emphasis on equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments. “We are still going to have a federal, state and local partnership,” commented Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the nonprofit American Public Health Association. “These are not turf-conscious people,” said Drew Altman, CEO of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a clearinghouse for health care information and analysis. A Secretary Becerra “can't get up every morning and think only COVID,” she said. That challenge faces widespread skepticism among minorities that the health care system has their best interests in mind.
Biden picks Xavier Becerra to lead HHS, coronavirus response
Separately, Biden picked a Harvard infectious disease expert, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Biden also announced other top members of his health care team, though some posts remain unfilled. But overseeing the coronavirus response will be the most complicated task he has ever contemplated. The core components of HHS are the boots on the ground of the government’s coronavirus response. Early in California’s coronavirus response, Becerra defended broad shutdowns Gov.
Next for Biden: Getting the right health team as virus rages
WASHINGTON – Up soon for President-elect Joe Biden: naming his top health care officials as the coronavirus pandemic rages. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made a fresh push during a virtual conference call Thursday for Biden to nominate Lujan Grisham as HHS secretary. Biden is expected to announce his choice for HHS secretary next week. In the running for a top health job is former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, co-chair of Biden's coronavirus task force. Alongside his health secretary, Biden is expected to name a top-level White House adviser to coordinate the government’s extensive coronavirus response.