Biden to announce COVID plan as experts warn of variant threat

President-elect Joe Biden wearing a mask
President-elect Joe Biden wearing a mask

Budiey / Flickr cc

Tonight President-elect Joe Biden will deliver a speech from Wilmington, Delaware, where he will outline his administration's plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic when he assumes office next week.

Sources say the cornerstone of the trillions-dollar effort to fight the virus will be a "100 million vaccines in 100 days" mass vaccination campaign, and a call for Americans to fight pandemic fatigue, wear masks, and physically distance themselves.

Vaccinations lagging

By the end of next week, providers will be administering 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine per day, but experts say that number needs to increase to 1.8 to 3 million a day if the country plans to each a level of herd immunity by the summer. Some governors are skeptical of Biden's vaccination plans, which are rumored to include creating vaccination sites in school gyms, stadiums, and mobile units.

Biden has said tackling the public health and economic crises caused by the pandemic is his first goal as president. He has named Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as his top medical adviser, and charged businessman Jeff Zients with the task of coordinating the federal government's coronavirus response.

In addition to vaccination, Biden is expected to address the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has left millions of Americans without jobs. In a sign that the current surge of COVID-19 cases across the country is once again hurting the economy, the Wall Street Journal reports that the number of applications for unemployment rose by 181,000—to 965,000—last week.

At least 13 states with B117 variant cases

The plan to vaccinate more Americans comes as scientists warn that the variant strain of COVID-19 that's currently ravaging the United Kingdom, B117, could become the dominant strain in the United States within the next 90 days.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the country has at least 76 cases of B117 in 12 states. Late yesterday, New Mexico became the 13th state to document a case of B117, in a man who had traveled to the United Kingdom in December.

Vaccines are expected to protect against the strain, which is 50% more contagious than the original variant that began circulating in the United States 1 year ago. And even though there's no evidence B117 causes more severe disease, being highly transmissible means there will likely be a surge of new infections that could once again overwhelm the US healthcare system.

The United States is already experiencing one of its worst weeks in the pandemic, with a record number of single-day death —4,327—on Tuesday. The most recent COVID-19 forecast from the CDC predicts that a total of 440,000 to 477,000 COVID-19 deaths will be reported by Feb 6.

According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker, the US had 232,943 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 3,848 deaths. There are 130,383 COVID-19 patients in US hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

In total, the US has seen 23,215,680 million COVID-19 cases, including 386,996 deaths.

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