The White House is directing $100 million of additional spending and deploying dozens of federal health workers to shore up vaccine outreach and Covid-19 tracking in rural and heartland states as the Delta variant continues to surge.
The new steps come as new cases and hospitalizations continue to spike while vaccination rates have stalled at 68 percent of adults, with uptake far lower in some parts of the South. The more transmissible Delta variant now accounts for 83 percent of cases nationwide.
Biden administration officials outlined the response at a Thursday briefing during which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Covid deaths have risen 19 percent on average over the past week while hospitalizations are up 33 percent. She and chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci again urged Americans who haven’t yet received shots to get vaccinated.
"This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect," Walensky said.
Officials see local outreach as essential to increasing immunizations. The $100 million funding influx announced Thursday will give nearly 2,000 rural health clinics more resources to reach unvaccinated communities, Biden administration Covid-19 czar Jeff Zients said. The funding was originally allotted in the American Rescue Plan and will amount to nearly $50,000 for each clinic.
Zients said the administration is also now providing CDC assistance to Missouri, Illinois and Colorado, while FEMA will be setting up mobile vaccination clinics in North Carolina.
But surge teams have been slow to get established in some red states where skepticism about the federal pandemic response is high. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has said he opposed any federal officials coming to his state to help with the vaccination campaign, while South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster warned state agencies against working with anyone from the White House who is promoting vaccination.
Despite the newfound urgency, Biden administration officials on Thursday repeated assurances that vaccinated people do not yet need booster shots.
Walensky meanwhile signaled that while federal mask guidance has not changed, it makes sense for localities to change their approach based on case numbers.
“We have always said that local communities have to look at what is going on locally, as we have a very heterogeneous country right now,” she said. “If you’re vaccinated have exceptional levels of protection from that vaccine, and you may choose to add an extra protection by putting on your mask and that’s a very individual choice that has been consistent with our CDC guidance,” she added.