The White House is warning of an increase in the coronavirus this fall and winter and is making contingency plans for how it will provide vaccines to the American public if Congress does not allocate more money for its response to Covid-19, a senior administration official said.
With prospects for another round of coronavirus relief looking shaky on Capitol Hill, government officials this week met with key senators — including two leading Republicans — to argue their case. Democrats have considered wrapping Covid aid in another emergency package for Ukraine, but it was unclear whether they will.
The White House has asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency aid to continue responding to the pandemic, but Republicans have pushed for a much lower number — $10 billion — and have requested $5 billion in global aid. deducted. Republicans are also urging the Biden administration to suspend its plans to suspend a public health order, Title 42, which authorities have used to deport asylum seekers during the pandemic.
The Biden administration is gearing up for the possibility that 100 million Americans — about 30 percent of the population — will become infected with the coronavirus this fall and winter, according to the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The 100 million figure is not as high as the total number of Americans known to have been infected with the highly contagious Omicron strain during the wave in December and January. It is based on a series of external models, although the official did not specify which ones, and hypothesizes that a rapidly evolving virus in the Omicron family — not a new variant — will spread through a population with declining immunity to infection.
The 100 million figure, which the official described as an average of what could be expected, also assumes a lack of federal resources if Congress stops approving money for tests, therapies and vaccines, and that many vaccinated and previously infected people would become re-infected.
Should that scenario materialize, the government’s goal is to prevent a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. One way to achieve that would be to revive mask mandates, the official said.
A report last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 60 percent of Americans, including 75 percent of children, were infected with the coronavirus in February and that the Omicron variant was responsible for much of the toll. .
The official predicted the next wave of coronavirus in the United States would begin in the South this summer, with a significant number of infections as people move indoors to escape the heat. In the fall, it would begin to spread across the rest of the country, especially the north, although the peak would not be as steep in some cases.
After a significant drop after the winter Omicron wave, new confirmed cases in the US have risen again. On Friday, the average of new U.S. cases was about 70,200 per day, a 52 percent increase in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, though the number of infections is thought to be too low, especially with access to at-home drugs. testing at home. Hospital admissions are also rising nationwide, with an average of more than 18,400 people with the coronavirus in US hospitals, a 20 percent increase from two weeks ago. And deaths, a lagging indicator, rose for the first time in weeks, rising 1 percent, to an average of 371 per day.
If Congress doesn’t approve more money for the domestic response, the official said, the government would use funds earmarked for testing and therapies to develop a simple vaccination program that would cover only older Americans and people with compromised immune systems. Officials have said they won’t be able to provide enough boosters for the general population in the fall without more funding.
Both Moderna and Pfizer are now working on so-called “bivalent vaccines” that can protect against some known variants. If those vaccines are approved in time by federal regulators and a significant number of Americans take them or get booster shots that are already approved, the official said, the death rate should drop to less than a tenth of 1 percent of people who become infected. But if access to vaccines is limited, the United States could see hundreds of thousands of deaths, the official said.
Last month, a panel of outside experts who make recommendations to federal regulators grappled with the challenges of vaccine renewal, including when such decisions might be made and the uncertainty about which variant of the virus could be dominant in the fall. .
The official said testing will be a particular challenge. Test makers are already firing employees as the demand for rapid home testing falls. The Strategic National Stockpile needs 1 billion rapid tests by the fall but will have only 400 to 500 million without additional funding, the official said.
Emily Cochrane reporting contributed.