In this Jan. 26, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden holds his face mask as he speaks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Biden is dispatching the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic. Beginning Jan. 27, the experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak and efforts to control it. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In this Jan. 26, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden holds his face mask as he speaks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Biden is dispatching the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic. Beginning Jan. 27, the experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak and efforts to control it. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

White House renews virus briefings: Many more still will die

WASHINGTON — As many as 90,000 Americans are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, the Biden administration warned in its first science briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, as experts outlined efforts to improve the delivery and injection of COVID-19 vaccines.

The hourlong briefing Wednesday by the team charged by President Joe Biden with ending the pandemic, was meant to deliver on his promise of “levelling” with the American people about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. It marked a sharp contrast from what had become the Trump show, in the last administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.

The striking deaths projection wasn’t much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheless served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead.

Wednesday’s briefing was conducted virtually, rather than in person at the White House, to allow for questions from health journalists and to maintain a set timing no matter the situation in the West Wing. But it was not without technical glitches.

It featured Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s co-ordinator for pandemic response; his deputy, Andy Slavitt; Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of Biden’s COVID-19 equality task force, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The White House respects and will follow the science, and the scientists will speak independently,” said Slavitt.

Zients, who previously ran the Obama administration’s efforts to salvage the rollout of HealthCare.gov, used to sign up for Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, repeated that the federal government no longer has a stockpile of vaccines to distribute. He added that the Biden administration was examining additional ways of speeding vaccine production, a day after the president announced the U.S. plans to have delivered enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of summer.

But injecting them in arms is a different matter.

“Most states are getting better at putting needles in arms,” Zients said, called on Congress to swiftly act to pass Biden’s “American Rescue Plan.” The $1.9 trillion bill includes $400 billion for measures specifically aimed at controlling the virus, including dramatically increasing the pace of vaccinations and building out an infrastructure for widespread testing.

Zients added that the federal Department of Health and Human Services acted Wednesday to make more professionals available to administer vaccinations. The government will authorize nurses and doctors who have retired to administer vaccines, and professionals licensed in one state will also be able to give shots in other states. Such measures are fairly standard in health emergencies.

Fauci told reporters there was reason to be concerned about the impact of some coronavirus mutations on vaccines, but that scientists have plenty of options for adjustments to maintain the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments.

Fauci said there was particular concern about the so-called South African variant, because lab tests have shown that it can diminish the protective power of the vaccines approved to date. He stressed that the level of protection provided was still well within what he called the “cushion” of vaccine effectiveness, but added that the government was working with pharmaceutical companies on potential “booster” shots for the new variants.

Walensky, the new head of the CDC, said her agency’s latest forecast indicates the U.S. will reach between 479,000 and 514,000 deaths by Feb. 20. More than 425,000 Americans have already died in the pandemic.

The new thrice-a-week briefings, beginning just a week into Biden’s tenure, are meant as an explicit rejection of Donald Trump’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re bringing back the pros to talk about COVID in an unvarnished way,” Biden told reporters Tuesday. “Any questions you have, that’s how we’ll handle them because we’re letting science speak again.”

Trump claimed centre stage and muddled the message of the nation’s top public health experts in the critical early days of the virus and eventually largely muzzled them as the pandemic’s mortal toll grew steeper.

The new briefings are part of Biden’s attempt to rebuild public confidence in institutions, particularly the federal government, with a commitment to share the bad news with the good.

“I’ll always level with you about the state of affairs,” he said Tuesday, repeating a central pledge of his inaugural address.

It’s a message that helped carry Biden to the White House. As a candidate he warned that the nation faced a surge of coronavirus cases in what would be a “dark winter”; Trump, for his part, falsely claimed the worst of the virus was over.

Dr. David Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University’s School of Public Health, said having briefings from health officials that are “based on serious science” would go a long way toward improving public perceptions of the vaccine.

“There’s a certain amount of vaccine hesitancy, and so educating people about the vaccine, how it works, how safe it is and how it can protect against the disease but also slow transmission is really important,” he said.

The stakes for Biden, whose presidency hinges on his handling of the pandemic and the largest vaccination campaign in global history, could hardly be higher.

Biden is pushing a weary populace to recommit to social distancing measures and mask-wearing, pointing to scientific models that suggest the practices could save 50,000 lives over the coming months. He has insisted members of his administration model best behaviours for the country.

Those messages found few champions in the former administration, as Trump openly flouted science-based guidance from his own administration. Face coverings were sparse at his reelection rallies and social distancing nearly nonexistent.

In the weeks leading up to Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. set records in new cases and reported deaths almost by the day, as many states reimposed costly restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Even so, Trump restricted media appearances by his top scientists and public health officials and continued to spread misinformation.

Asked by CNN last week if the lack of candour from the Trump administration about the virus had cost lives, Fauci replied, “You know, it very likely did.”

The Trump administration ended the practice of regular scientific briefings early in the pandemic, after Trump expressed anger over dire warnings about the virus by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s immunization and respiratory director who is leading the agency’s COVID-19 efforts.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2021, file photo, registered Nurse Shyun Lin, left, administers Alda Maxis, 70, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in the William Reid Apartments in the Brooklyn borough of New York. An increasing number of COVID-19 vaccination sites around the U.S. are canceling appointments because of vaccine shortages in a rollout so rife with confusion and unexplained bottlenecks. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2021, file photo, Dr. John Corman, the chief clinical officer for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, holds a sign that reads "Need Vaccine" to signal workers to bring him more doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 as he works at a one-day vaccination clinic set up in an Amazon.com facility in Seattle. An increasing number of COVID-19 vaccination sites around the U.S. are canceling appointments because of vaccine shortages in a rollout so rife with confusion and unexplained bottlenecks. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Just Posted

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday Service, in Abbotsford, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. A legal advocacy group challenging British Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests is scheduled to be in court today arguing for the church and others that COVID-19 restrictions violate their charter rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Churches in court to challenge British Columbia’s COVID-19 health orders

Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities in the province

A memorial for those killed and injured in a deadly crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus is visible at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Sask., on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘More pain:’ Some Broncos families angry over request in court to delay lawsuit

Eleven lawsuits were filed after the crash on April 6, 2018

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read