Biden advisers urge immediate COVID-19 action as U.S. infections close in on 11 million

FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to speak about modernizing infrastructure and his plans for tackling climate change during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers called for urgent action to address the nation’s “deeply alarming” COVID-19 epidemic on Sunday, a day when total U.S. infections are likely to cross the 11 million mark just eight days after hitting 10 million.

They warned that Republican President Donald Trump’s transition delay could further jeopardize the battle against the rampaging virus, including vaccine distribution planning, and urged Congress to immediately pass bipartisan financial relief even before Biden, a Democrat, takes office on Jan. 20.

Daily new infections in recent days have more than doubled single-day highs reported during the previous U.S. peak in mid-July, and the number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals also reached an all-time high, forcing a wave of new restrictions heading into the U.S. holiday season.

“We are in a very dangerous period,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

Unless action is taken now, “we’re going to see these numbers grow substantially,” Osterholm warned. “Our future’s in our hands.”

Spikes in cases have hit every U.S. state. Several have implemented new mask mandates, imposed limits on gatherings and taken other public health measures despite earlier resistance as local healthcare systems reached a tipping point.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee announced sweeping new restrictions on gatherings and businesses on Sunday, including a ban on indoor service at restaurants and bars, to combat a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in his state.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was expected to make an announcement about restrictions in her state at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT), local media reported.

Basic public health measures such as face covering to curb the virus’ spread have become politicized under Trump, who has eschewed mask mandates even after contracting COVID-19 last month, while Biden has backed their widespread use.

Still, some Republican governors in recent days have been forced to act, with North Dakota joining 35 other states over the weekend in mandating masks and Iowa this week requiring them in certain circumstances.

Forty U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases so far in November, while 20 saw a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally.

Saturday’s 1,257 COVID-19 deaths marked the fifth consecutive day with more than 1,000 deaths in the United States.

Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming White House chief of staff, on Sunday urged Congress to immediately pass COVID-19 relief legislation with new restrictions certain to take a toll.

“This could be a first example of bipartisan action post-election,” Klain told NBC. He said Biden has spoken to congressional Democratic leaders, but not to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has so far refused to publicly acknowledge Biden as president-elect.



Leaders in cities and states, especially those that weathered large outbreaks in the spring, defended renewed actions despite next week’s Thanksgiving holiday and Americans’ weariness over battling the disease.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose stay-at-home restrictions begin on Monday, said as many as 1,000 city residents were projected to die without further steps.

“Standing by and watching that kind of devastation is just not something that I could abide. We are at a critical inflecting point,” she told MSNBC.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a tweet, said public schools would remain open there on Monday as infection positivity rates stayed below a 3% threshold.

Klain said there had been no formal contact between Biden’s advisory panel and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which requires transition authorization from the General Services Administration.

“It’s really important in the smooth handing over of the information,” top U.S. infectious disease expert and White House task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “It’s almost like passing a baton in a race, you don’t want to stop and give it to somebody, you just want to essentially keep going.”

Biden’s team this week planned to meet with Pfizer Inc, which last week released positive initial data on its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, and other drugmakers, Klain said.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, head of Biden’s COVID team, told Fox News the coronavirus surge was “deeply alarming” but that a national lockdown was “a measure of last resort.”

“The better way to think about these safety restrictions is more a dial that we turn up and down depending on severity” in a given area, he said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Michelle Price, Nathan Layne, Sarah N. Lynch, Linda So and Anurag Maan; Editing by Bill Berkrot)



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