With more than 75 million eligible Americans still not vaccinated, hospitals in many states overwhelmed and fears that cases could grow further in the fall, experts and officials are scrambling to slow the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The one thing that we do know for sure… 160,000 cases a day is not where we want to be,” the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday. “Unfortunately, that is where we are right now”.
Speaking to Axios, Fauci said suppressing the virus is the “endgame” to the pandemic. Ideally, the US would get cases as low as possible, but a reasonable goal would be to get below 10,000 a day, he said.
In mid-June, before the surge in cases driven by the more transmissible Delta variant, the US reached a seven-day average of about 11,000 new cases a day, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden outlined a plan that imposes stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers, and health care staff — requirements that could apply to as many as 100 million Americans.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said, his tone hardening toward Americans who still refuse to receive a vaccine despite ample evidence of their safety and full approval of one — the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine — from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Todd Rice of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, called the move necessary. He said his hospital’s staff has been pushed to the brink and he worries about cases climbing in cooler months, which typically see higher rates of respiratory problems.
“The key to getting out of this is to get people vaccinated,” Rice told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday morning. “We have to do something to try to increase our vaccination numbers.”
Dr. Paul Offit, the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia, said that Biden’s announcement was an important step and that he “put his finger right on what the problem is right now in this country”.
And some experts pushed for more.
“I loved the speech; I wish he had gone further. I wanted the president to restrict travel this holiday season to people who’ve been vaccinated,” CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said.
However, many Republican governors — some in states with high hospitalizations and low vaccination rates — condemned the strategy. Some even said they would challenge the action in court.
“To be clear: the vaccine is the best tool we have to combat the pandemic but heavy-handed mandates are the wrong approach,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a tweet Thursday.
But even with both vaccination and mitigation measures in place, the endgame might not be complete eradication, said Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“Basically, it’s going to end the day that we have achieved enough level of population immunity, that the virus essentially becomes a nuisance and no longer a threat,” Jha said Thursday.