THE TRAJECTORY: Some states are starting to lift mask mandates and business restrictions as coronavirus vaccinations pick up speed throughout the country.
But the United States, which saw over 30 million cases and 550,000 coronavirus deaths, is still a ways away from herd immunity: While 93 million people – 28 percent of the country – have received at least one vaccine dose, only 14.6 percent have been fully vaccinated. And while the daily death toll and counts of new cases and hospitalizations have plummeted since the beginning of the year – an average of 3,100 people in the U.S. died of the coronavirus every day in January – there are still over 1,000 people dying per day.
Top officials are warning that the country is at risk of a new surge of infections as variants spread. The number of new daily reported deaths has risen by 6.2 percent in the past week; new cases are up by 8.6 percent.
- “It really is almost a race between getting people vaccinated,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned on CBS News's Face the Nation. “…We got stuck at around 50,000 new cases per day, went up to 60,000 the other day, and that's really a risk… And that's exactly what's happened in Europe in several of the countries in the European Union where they plateaued and then started to come back."
- Coronavirus variants are “spreading rapidly” and could cause “another avoidable surge” if mitigation measures are relaxed, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said last week.
States relaxing measures before the danger has passed could spur on the potential surge, Fauci told CBS News's Margaret Brennan. “The variants are playing a part, but it’s not completely the variants,” Fauci said, echoing the CDC's message that now is not the time to start traveling again.
- “It is remarkable how much this recalls the situation last year where we had introductions of virus to different places that scientists warned would be a problem,” Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health, told the New York Times's Apoorva Mandavilli. “People waited for them to be a problem before they took action — and then too late, they took action.”
Hindsight is 20/20: Deborah Birx, the Trump administration's coronavirus response coordinator under, told CNN's Sanjay Gupta that she believes that “most coronavirus deaths in the country "could have been mitigated" after the first 100,000 deaths if the Trump administration acted earlier and more aggressively.
- “I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” Birx told Gupta. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
Some are optimistic: Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug administration told CBS News's Face the Nation that the increasing number of vaccinated Americans should be a “pretty big backstop” against a “true fourth surge.”
- The vaccination effort is hurtling ahead as President Biden doubled his vaccine goal last week, promising that 200 million doses will have been administered under his presidency by April 30.
- But the vaccination campaign's success also depends on efforts to overcome hesitancy among broad swaths of the population, including the 47 percent of supporters of former President Trump and 37 percent of Latino adults who say they don't plan on getting vaccinated.
A Pew Research poll released last week shows that attention to news of the coronavirus outbreak has also “slipped to its lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic, but the large partisan gap in attention to that news remains,” per Pew Research Center's Mark Jurkowitz.
- “Overall, 31% of adults say they are following news about the pandemic very closely, according to the survey of 12,045 U.S. adults conducted March 8-14, 2021, on the Center’s American Trends Panel, the first time this question was asked during Joe Biden’s presidency. That is down from 37% in a survey conducted in late November.”
- A large partisan gap is apparent, however: Republicans have tuned out of the news coverage and “five times as many Republicans and GOP leaners (60%) as Democrats and leaners (12%) say the pandemic has been exaggerated," according to Pew Research.
Overall, Americans are feeling more positive about the new president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A new poll conducted by ABC News/ Ipsos shows a strong majority approves of Biden's response to the pandemic, along with vaccine distribution:
- “Overall, around three in four Americans approve of how Biden is handling the distribution of coronavirus vaccines (75%) and the response to the virus itself (72%). Sixty percent approve of how Biden is handling the country’s economic recovery."
At the current vaccination rate, the Biden administration is already “anticipating the supply of coronavirus vaccine to outstrip U.S. demand by mid-May if not sooner, and are grappling with what to do with looming surpluses when vaccine scarcity turns to glut,” the New York Times's Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland reported.
“Biden has promised enough doses by the end of May to immunize all of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. But between then and the end of July, the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers for enough vaccine to cover 400 million people — about 70 million more than the nation’s entire population,” per the Times.
- “Whether to keep, modify or redirect those orders is a question with significant implications, not just for the nation’s efforts to contain the virus but also for how soon the pandemic can be brought to an end. Of the vaccine doses given globally, about three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have not yet injected a single person.”
At the White House
HAPPENING THIS WEEK: “Biden is set to begin sketching out his plan to commit trillions of dollars toward upgrading the country’s ailing infrastructure, fighting climate change and bolstering federal safety net programs, as Democrats try to usher in a new era of bigger government — and spending — in the aftermath of the coronavirus,” our colleague Tony Romm reports.
- “The forthcoming proposals reflect a broader political shift underway in Washington, where Democratic leaders have sought to capitalize on their 2020 election victories to advance once-dormant policy priorities and unwind years of budget cuts under administrations past.”
- Timeline: “Biden’s push begins Wednesday, when he is scheduled to head to Pittsburgh to pitch the first part of a $3 trillion or more effort to improve the country’s roads, bridges and water systems nationwide.”
- “The White House this week also intends to release the early contours of its 2022 budget request to Congress. The blueprint is expected to call for a major increase in domestic spending starting next fiscal year, particularly targeting federal agencies that tackle education, climate change [and] housing insecurity.”
ALSO: “Biden must decide by Wednesday whether to extend a federal eviction ban as his administration races to send out billions in housing aid to millions of Americans struggling to afford rent,” the Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports.
- “Despite the administration’s silence, Biden, who extended the moratorium through March shortly after taking office, [is expected] to extend it again.”
On the Hill
THE CONGRESSIONAL STALEMATE ON ANTI-ASIAN HATE CRIMES: “Senate Democrats are vowing quick action to stem the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. But their modest legislative effort is headed toward the same political paralysis that’s plagued Congress after past national tragedies,” Politico’s Nicholas Wu and Marianne Levine report.
- “When the Senate returns from its two-week recess, it’s set to vote on Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono's proposal for a DOJ official to help expedite the review of covid-related hate crimes. The bill also would beef up state and local guidance on hate crime reporting while asking federal agencies to provide a general framework for avoiding racially discriminatory language when describing the covid-19 pandemic.”
- “A second bill that could see action in the Senate, with Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as its lead sponsor, would establish grants to help state and local governments improve hate crime reporting.”
GUN CONTROL DEBATE HEATS UP (AGAIN): “Two senators — one Democrat and one Republican — said Sunday that lawmakers in both parties could support expanded background checks for gun sales amid increasing pressure to enact meaningful gun-control measures after two recent mass shootings left 18 dead,” our colleagues Amy B Wang and Jacob Bogage report.
- “Don’t count us out,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Murphy added that “the fading political clout of the National Rifle Association presents an opportunity to work across the aisle to forge consensus on the issue.”
THE NEXT PHASE OF THE BORDER CRISIS: “The Biden administration’s attention along the Mexico border has been consumed for the past several weeks by the record numbers of migrant teenagers and children crossing into the United States without their parents, at a rate that far exceeds the government’s ability to care for them,” our colleagues Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report.
- “Starting in early April, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will hold more than 1,200 family members in hotel rooms under a new nearly $87 million contract with a nonprofit called Endeavors. ICE plans to release the families from the hotels within 72 hours, after providing them health screenings, a coronavirus test and access to clothing, meals, snacks and unlimited phone calls.”
- “DHS expects roughly 500,000 to 800,000 migrants to arrive as part of a family group during the 2021 fiscal year that ends in September, a quantity that would equal or exceed the record numbers who entered in 2019.”
- Meanwhile, “White House press secretary Jen Psaki [told Fox News’s Chris Wallace] Sunday that reporters would gain access in the near future to Border Patrol facilities being used to house unaccompanied minors who migrated to the U.S.,” the Hill’s John Bowden reports.
In the media
EYES ON PANDEMIC ORIGINS: Top U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the independence of a report conducted by the World Health Organization examining the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which the Associated Press's Ken Moritsugu reported early this morning concluded initial transmission most likely came from bats to humans through another small animal and “that a lab leak is ‘extremely unlikely.’”
- Secretary of State Tony Blinken told CNN's Dana Bash that he was worried "about the methodology and the process" behind the WHO report, "including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it."
- Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN's Gupta, without providing evidence, he believes the origin of the coronavirus originated inside a lab in China and "escaped" the lab. "The other people don't believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker," Redfield said.
- Former Trump administration official Matt Pottinger on CBS's 60 Minutes said declassified intelligence shows the Chinese government hid the fact that several researchers at the Wuhan lab came down with symptoms of the coronavirus and noted that the military was working in the lab.
Outside the Beltway
‘HE’S TOAST’: “The former president is obsessed with defeating him next year. He’s getting mauled by his own state party. Last week alone, a Republican congressman announced he’d challenge in the primary and the state legislature voted to strip his office of some official powers. By most accounts, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger doesn’t have a prayer of being reelected,” Politico’s David Siders and Zach Montellaro report.
- “He’s toast,” Jay Williams, a Georgia-based Republican strategist, told Siders and Montellaro. “I don’t know that there’s a single elected official who would put their neck out for Brad Raffensperger right now.”
- “As the GOP forges its post-Trump era identity, Raffensperger’s reelection campaign is emerging as one of the earliest and most contentious test cases for the direction of the party. At issue is whether a Republican who rejects the lie that the last election was stolen has any chance of winning another one.”
From the courts
HAPPENING TODAY: Derek Chauvin, “a White former police officer, will go on trial for the killing of [George Floyd], a Black man, in a case that many view as a barometer of racial change in the United States,” our colleague Holly Bailey reports.
- “Two weeks of jury selection in Chauvin’s murder trial whittled a pool of more than 300 potential jurors down to 12 with three alternates,” our colleagues Mark Berman and Holly Bailey report. “Because the case is so high-profile, the jurors will be cloaked in anonymity, shielded from public view and shuttled to and from Courtroom 1856 under armed guard.”