Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

President Biden’s top coronavirus advisers held their first public briefing.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

It began with a few glitches and interrupted audio, but eventually President Biden’s top coronavirus advisers — including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — held their first public briefing today. The virtual meeting was a clear effort to make good on Mr. Biden’s pledge to let “science speak again.”

A central concern among the officials is the spread of the new variants. Jeffrey Zients, Mr. Biden’s Covid response coordinator, said the U.S. was “43rd in the world” in its ability to track potentially dangerous new mutations of the coronavirus, calling it “totally unacceptable.”

Federal health officials have warned that the more contagious variant first discovered in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the U.S. by March. During the briefing, Dr. Fauci said the National Institutes of Health was working on research aimed at adapting vaccines so that they have “the ability to neutralize these mutants.”

The advisers also used the meeting to call on Congress to do its part. Mr. Zients warned that the federal government still faced a shortage of personal protective gear, and said it would not be able to buy more if Congress didn’t pass Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus rescue plan. Dr. Walensky also pleaded with Congress for additional money, saying scientists “really need to have access to those resources to do the amount of sequencing and surveillance that we need in order to detect things when they first start to emerge.”

The briefing arrives as Mr. Biden is under intense pressure to speed up the vaccine rollout. The president announced yesterday that his administration was nearing a deal for enough shots to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer.

Mr. Biden said it would “allow millions more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated,” but that’s unlikely to be the case. And with new and more infectious variants spreading, some experts say that will not be fast enough to curb the pandemic.

Even as the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations are showing signs of decline, death rates are at their highest levels of the pandemic.

California added 3,760 deaths in the last week — a record — while Alabama and Virginia set single-day death records yesterday. Nationally, the country recorded 4,205 deaths on Tuesday, making it the third deadliest day of the pandemic.

What explains the disconnect between falling case numbers and record-high deaths? My colleague Richard Fausset, a correspondent based in Atlanta, dug into this question.

One factor, he wrote, was that people whose deaths are being reported now were probably infected weeks or even months ago. So the current high levels of deaths probably reflect the huge surges of infections in November and December. Another possibility is that there may have been a shift in how many especially vulnerable people were becoming infected, although experts don’t think that’s the case.

The C.D.C. predicts that deaths will most likely come down over the next four weeks, but will nevertheless reach 514,000 in the U.S. by Feb. 20. Of course, the more contagious variants remain a wild card, and experts are worried that they could cause significant damage before much of the country is vaccinated.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

Puzzling. Just — puzzling. It’s something we did before we became physicians. So now, we come home, cleanse ourselves of the Covid from the wards, and puzzle.

— Mya Pope, Detroit

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Jonathan Wolfe