The White House is deploying Covid-19 response teams across the United States focused on combatting the highly contagious delta variant, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
The teams, comprised of officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies, will work with communities at higher risk of experiencing outbreaks and focus on increasing the rate of Covid-19 vaccinations, White House Covid czar Jeff Zients said during a White House news briefing on the pandemic.
The teams will also increase testing to expand detection of the virus, facilitate contact tracing and provide therapeutics to help treat those who become infected, he said, adding the government is ready to provide additional personnel.
There are 1,000 counties in the U.S. that have vaccination coverage of less than 30%, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing. These counties, primarily in the South and Midwest, are the most vulnerable to the variant, she said.
“To be clear, the federal government stands ready to meet the moment and work with our state partners to respond to the delta variant,” Zients said.
Delta, first identified in India but now in at least 96 countries, is expected to become the dominant variant of the disease in the U.S. The prevalence of the delta, estimated to be about 60% more transmissible than the alpha variant first found in the U.K., is doubling in the U.S. about every two weeks, according to the CDC.
It accounts for 26% of Covid cases in the U.S., the CDC has estimated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, has called the variant the “greatest threat” to the nation’s attempt to eliminate Covid-19.
The WHO has said the variant is the fastest and fittest coronavirus strain yet, and it will “pick off” the most vulnerable people, especially in places with low Covid vaccination rates.
In some regions of the country, nearly one in two sequences is the delta variant, Walensky said. As the variant spreads, officials expect to see an increase in transmission unless states can vaccinate more people, she added.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.