WASHINGTON — Sooner or later, most Americans will wind up getting COVID-19, although it will likely be pretty mild for those who are vaccinated and boosted, a Biden administration official said Wednesday.
During a press briefing held by the White House COVID-19 Response Team, MedPage Today asked members of the team to elaborate on the remark that “most people are going to get COVID” made by Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, during a Senate hearing Tuesday.
“As I’ve said in previous pressers here from the White House, we’re not going to eradicate this,” replied Anthony Fauci, MD, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We’ve only done that with smallpox. We’re not going to eliminate it. That only happens with massive vaccination programs, like we did with measles and with vaccines. But ultimately, we will control it. And if you control it in a way it’s at such a low level, and people are vaccinated and boosted, sooner or later as we begin to live with it, what [Woodcock] was referring to is that virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected. But if you’re vaccinated, and if you’re boosted, the chances of your getting sick are very, very low.”
The administration also announced Wednesday that it is planning to send millions of COVID-19 tests to schools. “Today the Biden-Harris administration is doubling down on our commitment to keeping all schools safely open for full-time in-person learning by taking new action to increase access to COVID-19 testing in schools,” the administration noted in a fact sheet. “Through these new initiatives, the administration will increase the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month. These additional tests will help schools safely remain open and implement screening testing and test to stay programs.”
Actions listed by the administration include:
- Sending 5 million no-cost point-of-care tests per month to schools. The administration will distribute 5 million free rapid tests to schools each month to help K-12 schools stay open and to implement and sustain screening testing and “test to stay” programs in accordance with guidance from the CDC, according to the fact sheet. After states submit initial requests, the first shipments will be delivered later this month.
- Providing 5 million additional lab-based PCR tests per month for free to schools. The administration is making lab capacity available to support an additional 5 million PCR tests per month for schools to perform individual and pooled testing in classrooms nationwide. The additional testing will be delivered through the HHS Operation Expanded Testing program, funded by the American Rescue Plan. This testing is available immediately, the administration said.
- Deploying federal surge testing units to support free testing access for students, school staff, and families. HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working with states, territories, and tribes to stand up surge testing sites focusing on the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities. Ways to help K-12 schools in these areas may include locating federal testing units on or near school grounds; establishing specific operating hours for students, their families, and school staff; and dedicating a specific portion of daily testing to school communities, according to the fact sheet.
- Connecting schools with COVID-19 testing providers to set up school testing programs. To support schools that want to set up COVID-19 testing programs, the Department of Education and CDC will work with states and outside organizations to help schools make connections to testing providers that are available in their state. CDC and the Department of Education will also work with schools to help them learn how to set up testing programs and how they can use American Rescue Plan funding to support them, the administration said.
- Offering new training, resources, and materials for implementing “test to stay” in schools. Later this week, CDC will release additional materials for schools on how to implement “test to stay” programs, including a school checklist and frequently asked questions. The Department of Education and the CDC will also continue to provide additional opportunities for states and school districts to learn about “test to stay” and how to effectively implement this approach in school, according to the fact sheet.
Also at the press briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, released the agency’s latest COVID data. Over the 7 days ending January 10, the average daily number of new COVID cases was about 751,000; that figure represents an increase of about 47% over the previous week, Walensky said. The 7-day average for COVID-related hospital admissions is about 19,800 per day, an increase of about 33% over the prior week, and the 7-day average of daily deaths is about 1,600 per day, which is an increase of about 40% over the previous week.
“Over the past several weeks, we have seen the number of daily cases increase substantially,” she added. “The magnitude of this increase is largely related to the Omicron variant, which now represents about 98% of the COVID-19 cases in the country.”
Asked during the question-and-answer session about the increasing death rates, Walensky said those deaths are likely “lagging deaths from the Delta wave. We have seen that the death rates from Omicron are down about 91%. And we will need to follow those deaths over the next couple of weeks to see the impact of Omicron on mortality. Given the sheer number of cases, we may see deaths from Omicron, but I suspect the deaths that we’re seeing now are still from Delta.”