VIDEO - White House COVID-19 briefing: March 31, 2021 ::

The White House COVID-19 Response Team shares updates on the pandemic as cases rise again across the country.

morning and thank you for joining us. I'd like to begin this briefing where the president left off his remarks on Monday afternoon. As he said, We are the life and death race against the virus. We are facing an accelerating threat and faced with an accelerating threat, this administration is accelerating our response even further. The most powerful way to do this is to accelerate the pace of vaccinations. Starting on Day one, we began working to accelerate and increase vaccine purchases and manufacturing to have enough vaccines to vaccinate all adults by the end of July. We then accelerated that to have enough vaccine for all adults by the end of May. The president then directed states to open up vaccinations to all adults by the beginning of May. But as we have seen, this virus continues to spread. President Biden has ordered that his national vaccination effort accelerate to the next level within three weeks. By April 19th, 90% of adult Americans will be eligible for a vaccine and 90% of Americans will live within five miles of the vaccination site. Already there are more than 50,000 vaccine sites across the country within three weeks, there will be about 70,000 locations. As we nearly double number of pharmacies that are vaccinating Americans. More Americans will get more appointments and more convenient locations. The president also committed to opening at least 12 more federally run mass vaccination sites. And today we're announcing three new sites that will open next week. In addition to the two we announced on Monday in ST Louis, Missouri, and Gary, Indiana, the first is in Memphis, Tennessee, at the Pipkin Building at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Second is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the Wisconsin center, and the third is in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the Greenbelt Metro station. Each of these sites is the first federally run mass vaccination site in introspective state, and each is capable of administering 3000 vaccinations a day. I can also report that previously announced sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington are now all open and fully operational and total leave open 25 mass vaccination sites, which have a combined capacity to administer over 95,000 shots per day. These sites are run by the federal government and close partnership with state and local officials, and they're part of our work to equitably distribute vaccines and reach communities that have been hurt the most by the pandemic. Through these mass vaccination sites, who administered more than two million shots and some of America's most at risk and underserved communities, more than 60% have been administered to racial minorities. All these efforts on behalf of one thing saving lives. We need to keep case numbers down so we can save lives and give people the chance to get vaccinated in April, May and June so we can enter the summer on the strongest footing possible now in the weeks ahead that it will take to get everyone vaccinated. For all of this effort, we need a simple thing of every governor, mayor and local leader. And that is to heed what the president is asking in return simply to maintain or to reinstate mask mandates. And we need every American to do their part together. We can win this race and save lives. If we're acting on our own, we will lose even more people correcting together we can defeat this, and with that, I'm going to turn it over to Dr Walensky and then to Dr Fauci for some important updates from them. Thank you so much, Andy. I'm glad to be back with all of you today. As per usual, I will begin with an overview of the state of the pandemic. CDCs Most recent data show that the seven day average of new cases is slightly less than 62,000 cases per day. We continue to see an increase and this is almost a 12% increase from the seventh day period. Prior hospitalizations also continued to increase. The most recent seven day average, about 4900 Emissions per day is up from 6 46 100 emissions per day in the prior seven day period, and the seven day average of deaths remains slightly above 900 deaths per day. As I said on Monday, this is a critical moment in our fight against the pandemic. As we see increases in cases, we can't afford to let our guard down. We are so close, so very close to getting back to the everyday activities We all missed so much, but now we're not quite fair yet. We need to keep taking the mitigation measures like wearing a mask and social distancing as we continue to get more and more Americans vaccinated every single day. Since early in the pandemic, Covid 19 has disproportionately affected certain groups in the United States, particularly blacks, Hispanic and Latino and Native American communities. In mid February, CDC released its estimates of life expectancy in the United States in the first six months of 2020 which showed a profound impact on communities of color, with a drop in life expectancy of 2.7 years among non Hispanic blacks and 1.9 years among Hispanics. Historic and tragic declines in these populations. Today, CBC is releasing an MMWR that provides additional detail on provisional mortality in the United States for all of 2020 with a focus on deaths associated with covid. 19 in 2020 about 3.3 million deaths occurred in the United States. Overall, this represents a 16% increase in deaths from 2019. Covid ranked as the third leading cause of underlying death underlying cause of death after heart disease and cancer, with approximately 378,000 covid 19 deaths, accounting for roughly 11% of all deaths in the United States in 2020 covid 19 deaths were far were highest for older adults and males and were higher as we previously saw among American, Indian and Alaskan natives, Hispanics, non black, non Hispanic blacks and non Hispanic, native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander persons compared to non Hispanic whites. In fact, among nearly all of these ethnic and racial minority groups, the Covid 19 related deaths were more than double the death rate of non Hispanic white persons. Sadly, based on the current state of the pandemic, these impacts have remained in 2021 where we continue to see that communities of color account for an outsized portion of these deaths. The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us. Continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of covid 19 and get people vaccinated as quickly as possible. I know this is not easy, and so many of us are frustrated with the destruction this pandemic has had on our everyday lives. But we can do this as a nation working together. There is reason to be hopeful because we now know so much more about this virus, how to stop its spread, and we now have three historic, safe and effective vaccines that we didn't have just four months ago, and we are distributing billions of dollars into communities disproportionately affected. To help mountain the most aggressive, equitable vaccination campaign of modern times. Millions more people are getting vaccinated every single day. This week, we will cross the 100 million people who have received at least one dose of the COVID 19 vaccine in the United States, a remarkable feat in such a short period of time. Further, over 70% of people over age 65 are most vulnerable. Group have received at least one vaccine dose. I'm proud the C. D. C. Stands with others leading the way to scale up our national vaccine effort as quickly as possible. As the president mentioned on Monday afternoon, we are working quickly to expand our federal retail pharmacy program from about 17,000 to 40,000 stores and communities across this nation to help everyone have ready access to vaccines. With this expansion and additional efforts in partnership with FEMA and states across the country, we will be able to reach the administration's goal of making sure that 90% of Americans will be within five miles of the vaccination site by April 19th, and we recognize that five miles is still too far for many Americans. And that is why we are activating resources such as mobile units and clinics, to those communities where this is the case to ensure they can get access to vaccinations. CDC is also excited to partner with the administration for communities living to support their efforts to get older at risk adults and those with disabilities vaccinated. This is helping to provide critical access to covid 19 vaccines to these individuals. Finally, I want to briefly share that. Today C. D. C is updating covid 19 guidance for adult day services centers. These centers provide important social and health services to community dwelling adults age 65 older, as well as two adults of any age living with disability. We know these populations are at high risk for severe covid 19 disease, and this guidance will help center administrators and staff protect themselves and adults receiving their services. By promoting and engaging in preventive behaviors that reduce covid 19 spread and help maintain healthy operations and environment of these facilities, you can find the updated guidance and resources for center administrators and staff on the CBC website. It's up to us. It's up to all of us to be part of this solution. Thank you for hanging in there with us for just a little bit longer and for doing your part to help others. Thank you. I'll turn things over to Dr Fauci. Thank you very much, Doctor Wolinski. I'd like to spend the next couple of minutes talking to you about the subject of the potential role of vaccinations that we are currently giving and handling the variants that we see emerging in our society and I have the first slide. This is a slide which schematically diagrams the immune response to sauce. Kobe, too, on the left hand. Part of the slide is what happens when you get cutely infected. Multiple components of the immune response are operative anybody's, but also something we don't pay much attention to. And that is the cell mediated response of what's called CD four and CD eight cells on the right hand. Part of the slide is what happens when you recover, which is the state you try to mimic when you vaccinate an individual in other words, you want to induce immune memory in the form of antibodies, CD four and CD A positive T cells, or what we call cell mediated immunity as well as memory D cells. Next slide. So what I want to talk about in the next two minutes or three minutes is that the immune protection against Covid 19 variants, which is of obvious concern to us when you were vaccinated against a wild type viral strain, namely the common virus in society. There are two potential mechanisms that protect you against variants one high tighter of anybody that although it's specific against the wild type strain, it is high enough that there's a spill over effect against the variant. And the second, which I like to emphasize right now, is the t so response that although it's specific against the wild type strain, there is a considerable degree of cross reactivity against the range of variants, which is characteristic of T cells. This slide here shows the high level of anybody against a prime and a boost of the Pfizer vaccine. The point I was making a moment ago is that that level is so high that even when you diminish it by multi fold, which is the case with the variant. You still have a good degree of protection next slide. But the other thing that we want to concentrate on is that now we're learning more and more that these CD four and CD eight cells are very important in that they cross react against certain viral variants, and they last for a long time. Next slide. This slide is an individuals who are actually infected, showing that immune memory response last for several months. But it also includes, besides anybody when I mentioned the very important T cells, which can help against the variants Next slide. When you look at vaccinated individuals as shown on this slide, you get T cell memory response again against the variants, not only against the virus to which you were vaccinated against, but, as shown in this report against a number of variants. Next slide. And finally, in a paper that came out just yesterday, it was shown very clearly that in individuals who recover from infection, if you look at their CD four and CD a positive T cells, they recognize virtually all of the variants of concern so on the final slide. Next slide. Getting back to I said in the beginning, we are seeing now immune protection against covid 19 variants when individuals are vaccinated against the wild type strain on two mechanisms the antibody response that has a spillover effect as well as the cross reactivity. The bottom line message to everyone is why it's so important to get vaccinated because vaccination is not only going to protect us against the wild type, but it has the potential to a greater or lesser degree to also protect against a range of variants. So when vaccination becomes available, get vaccinated. Back to you, Andy. Thank you. That's great news. Uh, all right, let's take questions. First question will go to Tamara Keith NPR. Mhm. Yes. Thank you. Thank you so much for taking my question. Uh, what we're wondering about it. NPR today is, um, whether there might at some point and I don't know that this point is yet, but whether at some point there might be a shift in the allocation of vaccine doses based on demand rather than simply on population size. If there are, you know, pockets of the country where demand is a little bit more slack. And there are other areas where there's a lot of demand and not enough supply whether there might be a calibration that you guys are now starting to consider. Yeah, that's a great question. Camera, Um, and without signaling anything specific, I want to answer that question at a high level. I think you're exactly right. We're gonna go through stages, um, as we vaccinate higher and higher portions of populations where it will, uh, make sense for us to continue to watch where vaccines are needed, how vaccines are distributed, the best way to reach more people. And, um, we will be in a situation unlike when we're familiar with in the last couple of months where we have an abundance of vaccines. So I might not think of it as much as shifting as much as I might think of making sure that we're putting enough vaccines and all the places that there needed, including doctors, offices, including regions, including places that might have been inefficient to do at the beginning while we had a surplus. So, um, it is absolutely how you should be thinking about our approach going forward. Next question Stephanie Baker. Bloomberg? Yeah. Thank you. Yes, this is a question for Dr Fauci. Um, can you explain why you decided to issue a public straight statement questioning the AstraZeneca interim results? Um uh, and do you think that they're updated results will enable them to secure emergency. You thought authorization because I think many countries around the world that are relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine will be taking their lead from the F d A. Even if Astro doses are not used in the US And then just another quick question. When do you expect the UK variant to become the dominant variant in the U. S? Yeah, Thank you. Well, with regard to excuse me to your first question, I believe you're referring to the NIH statement that followed the letter that was sent by the deeds MB to a Z as well as with a copy to me. I did not have a statement questioning their data at all. I urged them to make sure that their data was up to date in the sense that the the D S M B had written to them a rather harsh notes saying they did not believe that the data that was in their press conference was the most recent updated data. The only statement that we made in our release was to encourage them to work closely with the D S, m b to make sure that the data that they put into their press content to their press release is the most update and accurate data. So I didn't question their data at all. I just urged them to work closely with the D S, M B. And I'm sorry. This is your second question. I think the second question was related to variants, and I can just sort of fill you in B 117 we know from our most recent data is about 26% of circulating virus right now, um, we are looking at it by region. It varies in region from 4 to 36 35%. So we're watching this very carefully, but it is starting to become the predominant variant in many U. S regions. I think your final question is was asking us to consider whether the FDA was going to grant an EU A um, obviously we're going to leave that to the FDA, but I'm wondering if Dr. Voucher, you have any additional comments? Um, given the data that you have seen relative to the AstraZeneca, uh, release. Well, the data that they made public most recently indicates to me that this is a good vaccine that is going to have a very important role in the global response to this outbreak. Thank you. Next question. Ex world of Lauren classes at CD ROM Com. Thank you. Yes. Two questions. First, given the rise in cases in a number of schools and states that are reopening, how important is it to have a national testing strategy? And when should we expect to see that? And then secondly, are you anticipating any medical supply chain disruptions stemming from the backlog in the Suez Canal? Thank you. Okay, um, the first question on schools and testing. Um, Dr Walensky, do you want to provide some input into that? Yeah. What I will say is, we're watching. Obviously, the cases by by jurisdiction are school based reopening strategy does look at community transmission and is guided based on community transmission. We have five mitigation strategies and, of course, insular mitigation strategies related to teacher vaccination and testing. as you note, and we're working closely with the Department of Ed and others to, uh, input to put forward a national testing strategy for schools in terms of, um, your question about medical supplies in the Suez Canal. Um, we'll get back to you if we hear differently, but none that I'm aware of. And we didn't have to send people over to dig the ship out, so we were able to get people, keep them focused on getting people vaccinated. Um, let's go to the next question. By the way, let me just add one thing about these tools in the testing before I forget. Um, yeah, I should remind everybody that last week we announced $10 billion in new testing dedicated directly to schools. Um, so we now have the resources, thanks to the Congress and the bill signed by the president to be able to vaccinate Children on a weekly basis across the country. So, um, that testing capability is there. The testing resource centers are are developing available, and the testing is quite there. So in addition to what Dr Lynskey says, next question Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times Thank you for taking my question. Um, I wanted to follow up with Dr Fauci. Um, what do you think? Um, Dr Fauci, about the decision yesterday by the German regulators to restrict the use of estrogen mucous vaccine and people under 30 because of a rise in the number of cases of unusual blood clots, I think it's Sinus vein thrombosis. Does that give you fresh concern? Er, well, you know, I only have to go back to the European Medicines Agency, the Iemma, which again have made the statement. That is their opinion that the clotting issues that were seen with the A Z the frequency of that was no more than in the general population not associated with vaccines. So I mean, I don't have any further opinion on that except to say that you're talking about a situation in the European Union and the regulatory agency that's responsible for what goes on in the European Union feels that that is not an issue, that it is, in fact, the same level as you'd expect in the general population. Yeah, and let me just pile on to assure the public of the following. Um, the FDA will conduct a completely thorough analysis of the application that submitted and all the data from AstraZeneca and Dr Fauci, as he always does, will help the public interpret whatever comes out of the FDA when they reviewed that data. So people should be very assured that we have the best regulatory bodies who studied these matters in the world. We'll be looking at this data, and the best scientists in the world will help people understand whatever comes out of that. So I think we should wait until we see what happens with that process before anybody jumps to conclusions. Next question. Jeremy Diamond, CNN. Yeah. Should we go to other question, Kevin question It wasn't letting me on mute, but it just said, Can you hear me? Yes, Jeremy. Okay. Thank you. Um, so, uh, two questions. First of all, you said that you expected to be 117 variants to be dominant in the U. S. By the end of March. Early April. Um, is it now the dominant strain? And how much of the increase in cases do you attribute to that variant? And then secondly, um, we've heard a lot from you about the importance of governors keeping or reinstating mask mandates. But several of the states experiencing the worst surges haven't done away with their mask mandates. Instead, it's been loosening of other restrictions, like indoor dining and gathering. So my question is, what are you telling states about which restrictions they should be implementing? And why haven't you published uniform gating criteria to lay out a road map that states should be following? Thank you, Dr Walensky. You want to take those? Uh, yeah, as I mentioned earlier, we now have the one on seven is 26% of the circulating variant across the United States, and it is the predominant strain and at least five regions of the United States. So we're starting to see it creep up. We do know it's more transmissible somewhere between 50 and 70% more transmissible than the wild type strain. So to the extent that people are not practicing the standard mitigation strategies, we do think that more infections will result because of the 117 we believe that the current mitigation strategies of masking and distancing would work just as well against the current the wild type strain as they do that the one on seven strain. Um, I think we've been pretty clear with regard to our guidance and and strategies and um, setting specific strategies as to how people can remain safe in these settings. And we continue to articulate in these practice conferences and others the importance of masking, distancing, not traveling and decreasing crowds. Yeah, I mean, just reiterate, I think, three times a week for the last 10 weeks, Dr Walensky has made the same points over and over and over again because repetition is good and it's important. People want to know that they're getting consistent answers and consistently three times a week for 10 weeks, Dr Walensky has said, wear a mask, avoid crowds socially distance and don't travel unless it's absolutely essential three times a week for 10 weeks. We repeat that in all our conversations with governors, we repeat that all our conversations with local officials and we're not the only one saying it. Public health officials from departments and agencies across the country make the same points so that people who are in violation of that are choosing to do that. They are not confused about about where we stand and to your point. Jeremy uh, That's not the only factor that drives case growth. Uh, and even where there are mandates that everyone, um, complies by them. But there, where the variants are at any given time, is obviously also another important factor. Next question. We're gonna squeeze one more question in We'll go to, uh, seek on a coupon at New York Public Radio. Mhm, I thank you for taking my question. So New York health officials continue to voice concerns about the B 15 to 6 variant. Early studies suggest this variant was first detected last November, and it now represents a large proportion of cases in New York City and New Jersey, namely in counties undergoing surges. Yet the C D. C D still classifies B 15 to 6 as a variant of interest rather than a variant of concern. I'm wondering what additional evidence is needed before B 15 to 6 is classified as a variant of concern. Does the CDC plan to release state by state case numbers on the New York variant rather than just a rough proportion? And what's the national tally of B one? 5 to 6 cases so far? Thank you for that question. I'm gonna have to get back to you on the details on the national tally. What I will say is that there is an interagency group that looks at these variants and classifies them. And it is that inter agency group C. D. C. Is a part of that is actually looking at exactly this question right now. Thank you. Uh, thank you all. I want to just take the opportunity for us to wish everyone McCall a happy holiday season in a safe holiday season. Thank you very much.