The Biden administration is set to announce on Thursday that it is deploying response teams across the US to areas with a high spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 as concerns grow around the nation, a White House official told CNN.
These teams – made up of officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – will go into communities where officials are worried about a potentially deadly combination: low vaccination rates and a significant presence of the highly transmissible form of the virus.
The White House has deployed similar response teams in the past, but this is the first time they are focused on the Delta variant, a White House official said. These response teams will conduct surge testing, provide therapeutics like monoclonal antibodies and deploy federal personnel to areas that need support staff for vaccinations.
The White House coronavirus team is spearheading this effort and officials expect the teams will help with everything from boosting testing, providing supplies and potentially increasing paid media efforts targeting regions where vaccinations are low.
While these response teams are being sent to prop up communities, officials believe vaccinations are the number one way to stop the spread and recognize there could be a limit to their efforts. Most US adults who plan to get vaccinated against Covid-19 have already done so, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released this week.
But officials are still taking steps to help curb the spread. The more transmissible Delta variant of coronavirus now accounts for 26% of Covid-19 cases in the US, the CDC estimates. Cases of the variant have now been identified in all 50 states.
Recognizing the concern over the variant, the Biden administration flooded TV networks with top federal health officials this week to address concerns ahead of the July Fourth weekend.
“We want to be as clear as possible,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “So, if you have been vaccinated, the message we’re conveying is: You’re safe …If you are not yet vaccinated, you are not safe and protected. That’s why you should go get vaccinated. It’s not more complicated than that in some regards.”
The White House recently acknowledged the US would fall short of Biden’s goals of having 70% of adult Americans with at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July Fourth. White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said the country has more work to do to get younger Americans vaccinated, and expected the US to hit those goals weeks after the initial target date.
More than 154 million Americans are fully vaccinated as of Thursday morning, according to the CDC, and more than 57% of Americans ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated.
Zients said the administration is now focused on getting younger Americans, particularly 18- to 26-year-olds, vaccinated against the virus and is working with state and local leaders on outreach efforts.
Though federal officials are voicing concern about variants and racing to get the rest of the population vaccinated, the White House is looking to use the July Fourth holiday weekend to mark the nation’s progress in the fight against Covid-19.
The White House’s theme for the holiday weekend is “America’s Back Together,” and the administration is looking to promote the idea that the country is returning to a pre-pandemic normal, CNN has reported. The President, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and members of Biden’s Cabinet are traveling across the country over the holiday weekend.
The Bidens are also hosting an event at the White House on July Fourth for more than a thousand essential workers and military families on the South Lawn. The celebration will be the largest in-person White House event since Biden took office.
This story has been updated with additional information.