President-elect Joe Biden plans to deliver an address on the coronavirus pandemic as the nation experiences what his chief medical adviser on the issue, Anthony S. Fauci, described Tuesday as a surge in cases “that has just gotten out of control in many respects.”
Biden’s remarks, planned for Tuesday afternoon in Wilmington, Del., are expected to be his most extensive comments since early this month, when he laid out a plan for his first 100 days in office that included imploring all Americans to wear masks.
Earlier Tuesday, Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris became the latest high-profile politician to be vaccinated in a bid to build public trust in the process.
The setting for her shot was calculated: the United Medical Center in Washington, which serves the predominantly Black communities of the city’s Southeast quadrant and the southern part of Prince George’s County in Maryland. Harris said she hoped she could allay the mistrust that many Black Americans are expressing about the vaccine by getting hers in a hospital that serves Black neighborhoods.
Fauci, appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, lamented what he expects to be a post-holiday increase in cases and the strong possibility than January’s caseload will exceed even that of December. “You just have to assume it’s going to get worse,” he said.
Fauci also acknowledged that the rollout of vaccines was not reaching as many Americans as quickly as the 20 million that Trump administration had pledged by the end of the month.
“We certainly are not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We are below where we want to be.”
But Fauci, who accepted Biden’s invitation to play an expanded role in his incoming administration, expressed hope that by “showing leadership from the top,” Biden could make an impact — comments that appeared to be an implicit criticism of President Trump, who has said little publicly about the crisis since Election Day.
“What he’s saying is that let’s take at least 100 days and everybody, every single person, put aside this nonsense of making masks be a political statement or not,” Fauci said of Biden. “We know what works. We know social distancing works. We know avoiding congregant settings works. For goodness’ sakes, let’s all do it, and you will see that curve will come down.”
In remarks earlier this month, Biden also pledged to distribute 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office and said he wanted to open as many schools safely during the period as possible. He has also promised to sign an executive order requiring masks to be worn on federal property.
On Monday, Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s covid-19 advisory board, said during a television appearance that Biden is also considering invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production of coronavirus vaccines.
Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Grounder said Biden could invoke the wartime-production law “to make sure the personal protective equipment, the test capacity and the raw materials for the vaccines are produced in adequate supply.”
During his CNN appearance, Fauci said that getting children back to school safely should remain an imperative, despite rising caseloads.
“You can’t have one-size-fits-all, but the bottom line, what I call default position, should be that wherever we are, try as best as we can to get the children back to school and to keep them in school and to have a plan to try and keep them as safe as possible,” he said.
About 200,000 new coronavirus cases have been reported daily in recent weeks, with a record high of 252,431 on Dec. 17.
The nation’s overall caseload surpassed 19 million on Sunday, even as the holidays were expected to cause a lag in reporting. Hospitalizations have exceeded 100,000 since the start of December and hit a peak of 119,000 on Dec. 23. Deaths are averaging more than 2,000 a day, with the most reported to date — 3,406 — on Dec. 17.
Harris chatted with her nurse, Patricia Cummings, as she received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday, an event broadcast on live television.
Calling her “Nurse Patricia,” Harris thanked Cummings, the daughter of immigrants from Guyana who has been a nurse for a decade and a half, for her work and chatted with her about her day.
If Harris had any reaction to the shot, it was hidden by the two masks she was wearing, and she told Cummings afterward that “that was easy” and that she “barely felt anything.”
“I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine. It is relatively painless, it happens really quickly, and it’s safe,” Harris told a dozen or so reporters who had gathered for the event.
“We have hospitals and medical centers and clinics like this all over the country that are staffed by people who understand the community, who often come from the community, and who administer all year round trusted health care,” she said. “I want to remind people that right in your community is where you will take the vaccine … by folks you may know who have been working in the same hospital where your children were born.”
Aides to Harris said her husband, Doug Emhoff, also was scheduled to receive his first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.
Biden received his first shot of the coronavirus vaccine last week.
On her way out of the room, Harris was asked for her thoughts on the House passing legislation to bump upcoming stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. Harris referenced a bill she introduced with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) in May recommending $2,000 monthly stimulus checks.
“I urge Mitch McConnell to put my bill on the floor for a vote,” Harris said, referring to the Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky.
Brittany Shammas and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.
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