U.S. health officials said Thursday that the federal government stands ready to send COVID-19 surge response teams to areas of the country with low vaccination rates, as the contagious delta variant spreads throughout the country, especially in states with fewer shots in arms.
The teams would help get more vaccines administered but also assist with COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, coronavirus treatments and epidemiological expertise to help contain and track the virus in communities.
Across the United States, more than 67% of adults have gotten at least one shot of vaccine, but several states are well below that threshold, including places like Mississippi, Wyoming, Alabama and Louisiana.
“In some communities in the country, we're intensifying our efforts to help states prevent, detect and respond to hotspots among the unvaccinated by mobilizing COVID-19 surge response teams,” Jeff Zients, coordinator for the White House COVID-19 Response team, said Thursday.
The new effort comes as the contagious delta variant continues to spread and rapidly account for more cases in the country.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that the mutation was the second-most prevalent in the U.S., accounting for 25% of cases, but she expects it to become the most common in a matter of weeks.
She warned that delta poses the most threat to people who are not vaccinated.
“Communities where people remain unvaccinated are communities that remain vulnerable,” Walensky said.
Still, health officials affirmed Thursday that they will not reimplement a mask mandate because of the variant, even though the World Health Organization has recommended one.
“It's different in the world in general from here in the United States,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser. “The good news we have is that we have a solution. The science is clear. The best way to protect yourself against the virus, and its variants, is to be fully vaccinated.”
Members of the COVID-19 response team also defended the decision to hold a 1,000-person event at the White House on July 4 amid their own warnings about delta.
“The American people should be proud of the work that we've collectively done, and we want to recognize that progress,” Zients said.
“Nothing has really changed,” Dr. Fauci said. “We are celebrating as a country at the same time as we recognize the fact that we're in a serious situation for those who have not been vaccinated. And the message is: Get vaccinated.”
Zients said the new surge response teams were “ready” to respond to states when needed but did not say any had deployed so far.
The teams are in addition to the existing partnership between federal officials and state and local leaders, Zients said, calling it a continuation of a “whole-of-federal-government, wartime-like approach.”
The U.S. is currently vaccinating around 900,000 people per day, up from the previous week but lower than averages above 1.3 million in mid-June.