U.S. President-elect Joe Biden says he will be more aggressive in fighting COVID-19, including boosting the rate of vaccinations, while President Donald Trump’s administration is objecting to criticism of its response to the pandemic that has killed nearly 339,000 people in the United States.
The country has seen some improvement in recent days from the peak of a two-month surge in infections, but it is still adding an average of more than 180,000 new cases per day and public health officials warn holiday travel and gatherings could send the rate of infections back up again.
With less than a month before he takes office, Biden said Tuesday after a briefing with experts that the Trump administration is “falling far behind” in its vaccination effort.
Biden set a goal of administering 100 million shots during his first 100 days as president.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Drive targeted accelerating the usual timeline for developing a vaccine, and its leaders had predicted 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of December. The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows about 2.1 million people have received the first shot of the two-shot vaccine.
“Nearly 20 million first doses have been allocated to States for immediate delivery and administration at their direction, and this process is progressing rapidly,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement late Tuesday. “While partisan critics offer nothing but empty rhetoric to frighten Americans for political ends, President Trump delivers results.”
Biden said with the availability of the vaccine, he was confident the country could return to normality, but not immediately.
"The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough — a very tough period for our nation, maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic,” Biden said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the cable news network CNN that with tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases being recorded in the United States every day, the disease “has just gotten out of control in many respects.”
He said January’s caseload could exceed that of December. “You just have to assume it’s going to get worse,” Fauci said, because millions of Americans traveled to visit relatives and friends over the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, quite likely spreading the virus.
Earlier Tuesday, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, received their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Harris, who is Black and Indian American, received the first of her two required shots at a facility that primarily serves African Americans, a televised reminder to minorities, who have been disproportionately hard hit by the coronavirus, to get vaccinated in the coming months.
Biden received his first vaccination shot last week. President Donald Trump has been advised to postpone getting vaccinated because he was treated with monoclonal antibodies during his recent hospitalization with COVID-19.
Fauci said Biden, by “showing leadership from the top,” could make an impact in fighting the virus — a comment that appeared to be implicit criticism of outgoing Trump, who has often belittled the impact of the virus and said little publicly about it since losing re-election to Biden last month.
“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 Colorado, state health officials said a man in his 20s who had no travel history tested positive for a COVID-19 variant that had been found in Britain, the first such case in the United States.
British scientists said the new COVID-19 variant is more contagious than previously identified strains of the coronavirus.
The discovery of the new variant led the CDC to issue new rules on Christmas Day for travelers arriving to the United States from Britain, requiring they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Also Tuesday, Luke Letlow, a Republican who was set to join the U.S. House of Representatives after winning a November election, died from COVID-19 complications.
The 41-year-old was hospitalized December 19 after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Our hearts break tonight as we process the news of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s passing,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that as the House grieves Letlow’s death, “our sorrow is compounded by the grief of so many other families who have suffered lives cut short by this terrible virus.”