Return to Transcripts main page


White House COVID Response Team Holds Briefing. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 5, 2021 - 11:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us this hour.

And buckle up, this is an hour of live events and we are going to walk you through each of them as they are unfolding.


Starting with the coronavirus. Moments from now, President Biden's COVID response team will be updating all of us on the very latest in the fight against the virus.

One big headline ahead of that is the country is one step closer to having a third COVID vaccine available. Johnson & Johnson overnight just put in for emergency use authorization for its vaccine candidate. We're going to bring you that briefing live when it begins.

Also coming in this hour, President Biden meeting with House Democrats about his massive COVID relief package. And also that took a step forward this morning when the Senate got passed a key procedural step in a marathon vote session that lasted some 15 hours throughout the night. The president telling reporters in just the last little bit that now is the time to go big.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Obama put me in charge of the Recovery Act and it was hard as hell to get the votes for it to begin with. And then it was hard as hell to get the number even we got.

But one thing we learned is, you know, we can't do too much here. We could do too little. We could do too little and sputter.

Real, live people are hurting and we could fix it. And we could fix it.


BOLDUAN: That has been his message since the beginning and he is very clearly not moving off of that. President Biden is focused on this today. He's expected to speak live

later this hour on how he plans to revive the economy in the face of COVID. And the very latest sign of just how much jobs report came out this morning showing only 49,000 jobs were added last month across country.

And still there is more. On Capitol Hill, Republican freshman Marjorie Taylor Greene, she's about to hold a news conference and at the moment I'm going to use the term news conference loosely as we will see if she actually takes questions from actual real reporters which she has long avoided. Greene now without any committee assignments after the House vote yesterday stripping her of those roles because of her long and documented history of publicly talking about unfounded dangerous and deranged support of conspiracy theories.

So, we're going to get to all of this. But let's start at the White House for more on the meeting between President Biden and Democratic leaders.

Jeremy Diamond, he's joining us right now with more on this.

So, Jeremy, what are you hearing? We heard from the president just there reiterating the need to go big. But what are you hearing so far this morning on plans for the next steps for this COVID package?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the Senate early this morning passing that budget resolution is a big step. And it is a big step that makes clear that Senate Democrats and House Democrats will be able to move forward with this $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package proposed by the president without any Republican lawmakers if necessary.

Yes, of course, they have to keep in mind, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Make sure that he's pleased with what the final package here. But regardless, what this shows is that Democrats in the White House could move forward without Republicans if necessary.

At the same time, President Biden has made clear he would like to see Republican lawmakers join on board but once again this morning he stressed the urgency of the matter talking about the fact that this is impacting people's lives and while he's willing to compromise on some areas, he's made very clear that he's not willing to compromise on others.

President Biden this morning seizing on that jobs report that showed while the economy has shown some kinds of recovery, it is not close to the pace that would be necessary to recoup the millions of jobs lost during this coronavirus pandemic.

So, you heard the president jumping on the jobs report to make clear that the size of the package is important here and that the risk is in going too small, not in going too big.

Part of that is batting back criticism from Larry Summers, President Obama's top economic adviser, who was there when they passed the stimulus bill back if 2009. He talked about the risks of going too big and the potential for inflation earlier --

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, I'm going to jump in because the White House coronavirus response team, they're beginning the briefing. Let's listen in right now.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER TO WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: We will use them to highlight various efforts and leaders who are driving daily results on our national strategy to defeat COVID.

Let me tell you about the agenda today. CDC Director Dr. Walensky will give a brief report on the state of the pandemic, and then Dr. Fauci will provide some important scientific updates.

Then I have invited Tim Manning who coordinates our supply chain to provide detail into questions many of you have had about how we're scaling production of vaccines and other things, including by using the Defense Production Act.

We're going to discuss three specific ways we're using the Defense Production Act. First, to increase existing supply of vaccinations Americans need.


Second, to scale production of the tests that Americans need to get back their lives. And third, to reduce our long-term dependence on foreign production of supplies that we need to protect our workforce and fight pandemics.

Before we get to that, I have an announcement or two to make at the top. So, on Monday, you heard me announce that the Biden administration will scale production of at-home COVID tests from a company called Ellume. At-home tests are one of the key steps to getting back to normal life. We announced that by the end of the year, Ellume would be producing 8.5 million tests.

Today, you'll hear even more action on testing. We will announce that six more companies will surge manufacturing of at-home test kits with the goal of by summer having millions of Americans being able to access at home tests, and at multiple of what talked about on Monday. It won't be easy and it is not happening overnight.

But today's announcement represents another step in the long journey back to normal life. In addition, I want to announce that the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has approved FEMA's request to augment and expedite vaccinations across the country. He's ordered the first contingent of more than a thousand active duty military personnel to support state vaccination sites. Part of this group will start to arrive in California within the next ten days to begin operations there around February 15th with additional vaccination missions soon to follow.

The military's critical role in supporting sites will help vaccinate thousands of people per day and ensure everyone American who wants a vaccine will receive one. I know DOD will be providing a briefing this afternoon with more details. But I want to make sure that you were aware of this important development in our whole of government response.

With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Walensky.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be back with you today.

Let's start with a snapshot of the pandemic. The United States continues to see a decrease in COVID-19 cases since its peak on January 8th. Similarly, the number of new cases on February 3rd, approximately 121,000 represents a 61 percent decrease since the peak on January 8th.

Similarly, the number of new hospital admissions reporting on February 2nd, approximately 10,500 was down nearly 42 percent since the hospitalization peak of 18,000 reported on January 5th.

On Wednesday, I noted the peak -- the pace of deaths appears to be slowing and that we anticipated deaths would start to decrease in the coming weeks. Early data suggests now we're starting to see the decrease with the seven day average number of deaths declining 6.7 percent to slightly more than 3,000 deaths per day from January 28th through February 3rd.

While we watch these data closely to see if these will be a confirmed trend, prior data do suggest that peaks and depth trail the peaks in cases by somewhere between nine and 20 days. However, we may see variation for different reasons including reporting delays. As such, we will know better if this trend becomes a stable downward slope over the next week.

While the data are moving in the right direction, context is important, because cases, hospital admissions and deaths all remain high and well above the level that's we saw in the summer and early fall.

In order to keep these trends moving in the right trajectory, we must continue to wear masks, continue to social distance and avoid travel and crowds and get vaccinated when it is your turn.

And I want to underscore the importance of mask wearing. Today, CDC will be releasing two reports in the MMWR that describe the decline in COVID-19 hospitalization growth rates when state wide mask mandates are in place, as well as a study detailing face mask use among college students on college campuses with mask mandates.

Finally, I want to highlight another dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic on society, specifically on the mental health and substance abuse. Yesterday, CDC reported a study in the MMWR among U.S. adults and found that 28 percent reported symptoms of depression, 8 percent reported suicidal thoughts, and 18 percent reported they had started or increased substance use to cope with emotions during the pandemic.


The study also found that these outcomes were higher for some racial and ethnic groups including Hispanic adults. This study underscores the need to ensure that the response to the

COVID-19 pandemic includes attention to behavioral health needs of communities and it reminds us that the long standing systemic health and social inequities have put many racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk for poor health outcomes including COVID-19. And it underscores the need for health equity to underpin everything that we are doing in response to this pandemic.

Thank you.

I'll now turn it over to Dr. Fauci -- Dr. Fauci.


What I'd like to do in the next couple of minutes is just to bring you up to date on one of the issues that we discussed at our last briefing and that is the progress along the way of the J&J on the basis of the data from their ensemble trial in getting the information to the FDA, examining it in preparation for the possibility of a emergency use authorization.

The data are now with the FDA, they are examining it. They have scheduled the advisory committee, their vaccines and related biological product advisory committee which will meet in three weeks. So let me just very briefly review for you where we are and where we hope to go.

As you know, the data on efficacy of this ensemble trial which involved three countries, the United States, Brazil and the Republic of South Africa, showed an overall efficacy of 66 percent. But when you unpacked from the different countries, you had a 72 percent efficacy for mild to moderate disease in the USA, in the Republic of South Africa, which as you know is of concern to us because of the mutant and the lineage that is now dominant in the Republic of South Africa, namely the B1351.

In that, the protection against moderate disease was 57 percent, but the good news is that when you look across all of the countries, the protection against truly severe disease was well over 80 percent, in fact, about 88.8 percent. Also of interest is that in the South African study, as well as all of the others, there were essentially no hospitalizations or deaths.

So the sobering news is that we are dealing with variants, antigenic variation which does have clinical consequences, as I mentioned on the last press briefing of escape from the monoclonal antibody protection and a diminution in some of the protection that we have from the current vaccines.

But the somewhat encouraging news is the rather complete protection against very severe disease including hospitalizations and deaths.

Now, when you look at what is going on in our own country, clearly as the days and the weeks go by, you see as predicted an increase in the prevalence of the U.K. variant, the B117 in the United States, which, as you well know, has been shown by the Brits to have an increase in efficiency of transmissibility as well as a recent paper showing there was some increase in pathogenesis leading to severe disease.

So this is something that we will have to deal with because this is something that is expanding and it is prevalent in the United States. The point that I want to make and end with is something that I said last time that I really think that it is important for us here in the United States to realize -- that the evolution of variants occurs only when you have a certain degree of replication of the virus in the community. And that means spread from person-to-person.

Viruses will not evolve and mutate if you do not give them an open playing field to replicate and replicate in essentially an unbridled fashion. For that reason, the message that we keep giving, that Dr. Walensky and I and others on the team keep giving, is that now is the time to do a couple of things.

One, double down on the adherence to the public health measures that we talk about all of the time, the uniform masking that the president has spoken about, the physical distancing, the avoiding congregate settings particularly indoors and the washing of hands.

At the same time, as another very important mechanism of dampening down the replication in a given community is the distribution efficiently and effectively of vaccines.


You'll be hearing about that in a moment. But the message that we have when a vaccine becomes available to you, get vaccinated. You will not only be protecting yourself, your family, but you will be making a major step in a positive way to protecting the community.

I'll stop there and back to you, Andy.

SLAVITT: Thank you.


TIM MANNING, COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM SUPPLY COORDINATOR: Thank you, Andy. Thank you, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Walensky.

So, first, since I may not be as well known, please allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Tim Manning. I'm the national supply chain coordinator for the COVID response. I'm an emergency manager having done disaster and emergency response for past 25 years and worked at the local and state level and served as a deputy administrator at FEMA for eight years. I'm also been a firefighter and EMT, and I know firsthand the importance of having the equipments, supplies you need when you need it on the front lines of a crisis.

Right now, I work with teams across the government, from the Department of Defense to the Department of Health and Human Services, to ensure our country has the supplies we need not just now but in the future. That is why on day one President Biden signed an executive order directing us to use all necessary powers, including the Defense Production Act to get this pandemic under control. In fact, the administration identified shortfalls in 12 critical categories of supplies.

And today, I'm announcing three ways in which the administration is using the Defense Production Act authorities to fight this pandemic. One is an immediate impact. One that will be felt over the next few months and one will diminish our reliance on foreign manufacturing for PPE over the long term.

Our first action gets Pfizer more equipment and supplies that are enabling them to ramp up production and deliver more vaccine faster. Our second action will deliver more than 60 million point-of-care tests or at-home tests by the summer, and that's in addition to the news Andy announced on Monday about that Ellume test.

Our third action will help Americans -- help America produce more surgical gloves that our front line workers desperately need. So, let me start with increasing vaccine production. Since January 20th we've increased the vaccine supply we are providing states by over 20 percent.

Right now, one of the limiting, constraining -- one of the factors constraining increased manufacturing of vaccines is limited equipment and ingredients. That is why we're leveraging an important power of the Defense Production Act, the ability to insure that supplies and material critical to our national defense are going to areas of greatest need. This is called a priority rating.

If the federal government puts a priority rating on a contract, it means that company could, say a vaccine manufacturer, get first access to a product they need before anyone else. Today, we're announcing we're expanding the priority ratings for Pfizer to include filling pumps and tangential flow of filtration skid units, critical components Pfizer needs to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine.

It's actions like these that this will allow Pfizer to ramp up production and hit their targets of delivering hundreds of millions of doses over the coming months. We told you when we heard about a bottleneck on needed equipment, supplies, technology related to vaccine supply that we would step in and help. And we are doing just that.

Second, we're using the DPA to increase our supply of at-home COVID tests. The country's well behind where we need to be in testing, particularly the rapid at-home tests that will allow us all to get back to normal activities like work and school.

Earlier this week, we announced investments to bring the first nonprescription, at-home COVID tests to Americans. And I'm pleased that -- to announce that over the coming weeks, the U.S. government has plans to invest in another six supplies to rapidly surge domestic testing capability and thanks to this action, 61 million point-of-care or at-home tests will be available by the end of the summer. To do this, we'll help industry partners construct new plants and

build new production lines here in the United States, bringing critical capacity to the fight and reducing our vulnerabilities to disruption in the supply chain. And third, we're very focused on procuring the personal protective equipment, PPE, that keep America's front line health care workers safe. There is a grave need for mask and shields and gloves and we currently aren't producing these at the rate that we need in order to keep up with demand.

We're already working to increase the availability of N95 masks to front line workers but another critical area of concern is surgical gloves. Right now, we just don't have enough gloves. We're nearly 100 percent reliant on overseas manufacturers to explore to us our country's surgical gloves that protect health care workers, and it is unacceptable and we're using all of our authorities to fix it.

Over the past two weeks, we pushed forward an estimate for manufacturing of surgical gloves.


And I'm pleased to announce that we will build plants to make the raw materials, the nitrile rubber for surgical gloves here in the United States and will help build factories to make those gloves right here in the U.S. as well.

And by the end of the year, we'll produce more than a billion nitrile gloves a month right here in America. We'll now make enough to satisfy half of all of the U.S. health care community demands right here on U.S. shores.

These are just three examples of how we're using the DPA strategically and effectively in our national response and there is more to come. I know there is a great deal of interest in exactly where and with whom we're contacting. For reasons of procurement law, I'm not able to disclose the ongoing contract negotiations until they are finalized. Contracts take four to five weeks to finalize and we're about half way through.

So over the next few weeks, I expect we'll have more announcements about the way we're using the DPA and other tools to combat the virus.

Now, I want to end by encouraging Congress to act, because some of our additional plans to use DPA, including adding more domestic genomic distancing, allowing us to track variance and see new variants or ramp up molecular tests require funding. Congress could get help this effort greatly by passing the American Rescue Plan.

And with that, I'll turn it back over to Andy.

SLAVITT: Thank you, Tim.

So why don't we go to some questions.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, everybody. First, we're going to Peter Sullivan at "The Hill". PETER SULLIVAN, THE HILL: Hey, thanks.

I wanted to ask on rapid testing, I hear the announcements you're making. Some people have pointed to the FDA as sort of a bottleneck on the rapid testing and say, you know, they're not authorizing -- they're maybe taking too conservative of a view of accuracy comparing it to PCR and not kind of authorizing simple rapid tests that could be millions per day, maybe even more plentiful than what you're talking about.

So, I wonder -- I mean, is there any consideration of either creating a new approval path way at the FDA or taking more steps to kind of authorize more -- even more clinical (ph) rapid tests?

SLAVITT: Yeah, thank you, Peter.

Look, we understand that everybody who has something submitted to the FDA wants their product approved and I would only observe having been around the FDA for quite sometime that when they go fast, people criticize them, when they go slow people criticize them, and I think we should be delighted with the announcement today, which I think is kind of factual to the question.

Having 60 million more at-home tests available over the course of the summer is exactly what the country needs. I think it will change things pretty significantly. So I'm very excited about this announcement, and I think many Americans hopefully will be as well.


Next we go to Michael Wilner at "McClatchy".

MICHAEL WILNER, MCCLATCHY: Thanks for doing this.

Two questions for me. First, the Pentagon just announced it approved 1,110 active duty service members to support five FEMA vaccination centers. Could you tell us where those vaccine centers will be?

And secondly, the national strategy said that the administration plans to accelerate the pace of vaccinations by encouraging states to move through priority groups more quickly. So what is more quickly mean? You could be specific what your guidance has been to states thus far and if you're leaving it to states to manage, what about your guidance is different from the prior administration which also endorsed the ACIP guidelines?

SLAVITT: Yeah, thanks for the question, Michael.

I believe that the Department of Defense is going to hold a briefing this afternoon to answer questions specifically about their announcement. All I could tell you is that it is such a critical part of our all of government response and the team work that I've observed since I've been here. I think with regard to increasing the pace of vaccinations and moving through priority groups.

Let me just first start by saying all of us, and starting from the president, recognize that Americans are eager to get vaccinated and that we should have -- we want to get that done as hastily and safely and equitably as possible. I would love to tell you we are sitting on stockpiles of vaccines that we found when we came here. But unfortunately that's not the case.

What we've done is we've been distributing vaccines as quickly as possible and we've increased two periods in a row the amount of vaccines that states are getting. I could assure you we're in constant conversation about an end to end last mile approach to getting people vaccine in arms, and that that is I think taking an -- improving the state's ability to get those vaccines in arms more quickly.


As one data point, as I pointed out earlier in the week, when we got here on January 20th, about 46 percent of this -- of the supply delivered to states had been administered and that number is now over 60 percent. I'm not going to speak to the administration before ours, that -- we look forward, and we see a lot of improvement opportunities and I think we've taken some and we're going to work with states to find additional ones.

Next question?

MODERATOR: Great, thanks.

Next we'll go to Sara Murray at CNN.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, thank you guys for doing this. I appreciate it.

My question first is for Dr. Walensky, I just wanted to follow up on some of her comments about teachers. We're wondering why it would be safe for teachers to return to the classroom if they have not been vaccinated, and whether that is considered the CDC's official guidance at this point, that teachers can go back into the classroom even if they have not been vaccinated. And secondly, I'm just wondering what steps the administration is considering to try to ramp up production of the J&J vaccine assuming it does get an EUA approved since the supply will be relatively limited in the beginning.

SLAVITT: Dr. Walensky?

WALENSKY: Sure. I'm happy to answer that.

I wanted to just emphasize that our goal is to get children back to school. School should be the last place that's closed and the first place that's opened. Our goal is to make sure in getting children back to school that we do so both with the safety of the children and the safety of the teachers as utmost and critical in making sure that that happens.

Among the things that we need to do to make sure that schools are safe is to make sure that the community spread of this disease is down and that means it is all of our responsibility to work to get our children back to school safely and our teachers back to school safely. We are actively working on the guidance and the official guidance which will be released soon (INAUDIBLE).

SLAVITT: With regard to your question second on Johnson & Johnson, you're correct that as is the case with other vaccines, we have not found that the level of manufacturing allows us to have as much vaccine as we think we need coming out of the gate. And without giving you a direct answer to your question, for reasons that I hope are obvious, every option is on the table to figure out how to accelerate manufacturing in the event that the FDA does approve the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Next question.

MODERATOR: Next, we'll go to Chris Megerian at "Los Angeles Times".

CHRIS MEGERIAN, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Hello. I wanted to see if this is the first officially use of Defense Production Act to speed the production of the vaccines and wanted to see if this use of the DPA is going to increase the pace of vaccine production ahead of what was previously announced or just ensure that production meets the targets that were previously announced.

SLAVITT: Tim, do you want to take the first, and you're welcome to take the second, or I could take the second if you'd like.

MANNING: Sure. Thanks, Andy.

This is amounting to the first sequence of actions in the Defense Production Act that we've taken under the Biden administration over the last couple of weeks. There have been DPA ratings, I think people probably familiar with in the last days of the Trump administration, there was a -- some limited use of the Defense Production Act on the Pfizer vaccine but there have been DPA ratings placed previously over the course of the last year in the manufacturing of the vaccines by the previous team as well.

And as far as the -- the second question, I'll defer back over to Andy.

SLAVITT: Yep. So I think that the use of the defense production act that Tim outlined is what allowing, one of the things I should say, that is allowing Pfizer to meet the targets and last week they announced that acceleration of their targets of when they'll be able to deliver vaccines and I think our partnership with them is one (AUDIO GAP) factor.

Next question.

MODERATOR: All right. And last question, we'll go to Tommy Christopher at Mediaite.

REPORTER: Hi, can you hear me?


REPORTER: Thank you. My question is for Dr. Fauci principally but really for any of you. First two questions. My first was, could you tell me how frequently

you on the team are in contact with President Biden and Vice President Harris and how responsible do you think they've been to your policy recommendations?