4:18 P.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good afternoon. And thanks for joining us. I’ll turn to Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci in a moment. First, I want to provide an update on our whole-of-government response to the pandemic.
We remain concerned about the continued rise in cases driven by the Delta variant. These cases are concentrated in communities with lower vaccination rates. In fact, the seven states with the lowest vaccination rates represent just about 8.5 percent of the U.S. population but account for more than 17 percent of cases. And one in three cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas this past week.
From the start, we’ve known that this virus is unpredictable. That’s why we spent the last six months preparing for every scenario. As a result, we have the tools we need to manage this most — this. Most importantly — the tool that is most important is the highly effective vaccines. We have enough vaccines for every American who wants one. They’re free and they’re easily accessible — within five miles of where 90 percent of where Americans live.
And in just six months, we’ve already gotten 165 million Americans fully vaccinated — including 80 percent of seniors, who are the most vulnerable.
But we have much more work to do to put this pandemic behind us. There are still about 90 million eligible Americans who are unvaccinated. And we need them to do their part, roll up their sleeves, and get vaccinated. Each and every shot matters.
And last week, the President laid out several areas where we’re taking additional steps to get more Americans vaccinated. We expanded the tax credit to help small- and medium-sized businesses provide their employees paid time off to get themselves and also their families vaccinated.
And we’re working with school districts and pharmacies to bring vaccines to schools to make it as convenient as possible for students to get vaccinated.
In the past two weeks, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in the average number of 12- to 17-year-olds getting vaccinated each day. That’s a very encouraging uptick.
We’re also working with states to encourage vaccinations through incentives, which have made a difference throughout the vaccination effort. Last week, the President called on states and local governments to use funding they have received, including from the American Rescue Plan, to give $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated. Minnesota and New Mexico have already stepped up to answer the President’s call.
If financial incentives like these help us get more shots in arms, we should use them. But in addition to incentives, it’s time to impose some requirements based on the realities of different risks unvaccinated individuals pose versus those who have been vaccinated.
Last week, the Department of Veteran Affairs announced it will require doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers who provide medical care to our veterans to get vaccinated. This is in lockstep with many healthcare employers around the country who are requiring vaccinations and will protect our veterans when they get medical care.
At the President’s direction, the Department of Defense is looking into how and when they will add the COVID-19 vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for the military.
And to protect the federal workforce, their loved ones, and their communities, the President announced that every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Any federal employee who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask, no matter where they work; get tested once or twice a week; socially distance; and, generally, will not be allowed to travel for work.
We’re taking steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors. It’s simple: If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.
And the President has called on all employers around the country to protect their own workforces. And now we’re seeing positive momentum across the private sector. The Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable have all applauded the actions we’re taking. Companies like Google, Walmart, and Disney have announced vaccination requirements for their employees, joining hundreds of universities and hospital systems across the country who are implementing similar requirements.
With these ongoing efforts, there’s a strong sense of progress. And you see it in the number of shots we’re getting into people’s arms each day.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a nearly 70 percent increase in the average number of new people getting vaccinated each and every day. In the last seven days alone, 3 million Americans have gotten their first shot. That’s the highest seven-day totals since July 4th.
And just today, we hit 70 percent of adults with at least one shot, including 90 percent of seniors with at least one shot. These are significant milestones in our fight against the virus.
And it’s very important to note, in the states with the highest case rates, daily vaccination rates have more than doubled. The eight states with highest current case rates have seen an average increase of 171 percent in the number of people newly vaccinated each day over the past three weeks.
Louisiana has seen a 302 percent increase in the average number of newly vaccinated per day; Mississippi, 250 percent; Alabama, 215 percent; and Arkansas, 206 percent.
This increase in vaccination rates in states that have been lagging is a positive trend. Americans are seeing the risk and impact of being unvaccinated and responding with action. And that’s what it’s going to take to get us out of this pandemic.
With that, let me turn it over to Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci. Dr. Walensky first.
DR. WALENSKY: Good afternoon. Let’s begin with an overview of the data. As of Saturday, CDC reported the seven-day moving average of daily new COVID-19 cases to be about 72,000 cases per day. This represents an increase of 44 percent from the prior seven-day average and higher than our peak of last summer.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 6,200 per day, an increase of about 41 percent from the prior seven-day period. And seven-day average daily deaths have also increased to 300 per day — an increase of more than 25 percent from the previous seven-day period.
I want to start today by simply stating the obvious. While we desperately want to be done with this pandemic, COVID-19 is clearly not done with us, and so our battle must last a little longer.
Many of us have lost loved ones or have been ill ourselves. All of us have given up things in our lives that we enjoy. This is hard, this is heavy, but we are in this together. And as we learn more about COVID, we continue to rely on proven ways to protect ourselves, our children, and our loved ones.
I told you I would give you scientific information as I have it, when I have it. Here is what we have learned in the last two weeks about the Delta variant.
First, the Delta variant is highly contagious. To put this in perspective, if you get sick with the Alpha variant, you could infect about two other unvaccinated people. If you get sick with the Delta variant, we estimate that you could infect about five other unvaccinated people — more than twice as many as the original strain.
Second, infections with the Delta variant result in higher viral loads. This means that those who are infected have a larger burden of virus that they can spread to others.
Third, those higher viral loads are seen not just in those who are unvaccinated and infected but also, and importantly, in the small proportion of those who are vaccinated and become infected.
Last week, we published data on an outbreak in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, where there were 346 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in people who were fully vaccinated.
During the summer, some towns in Barnstable County can have up to 240,000 visitors per month. Those with breakthrough infections had viral loads that were similar to people who were infected and unvaccinated.
This new finding, combined with data from other outbreak investigations and surveillance studies across the country, was critical in our decision to update our guidance for those who are fully vaccinated.
Since those data were released, several other studies have been released over just this past weekend that have corroborated these findings.
Taken together, the Delta variant is different from prior strains.
I understand this is all frustrating news, and I share this frustration. We continue to learn each day from emerging science and use this evidence to update our recommendations.
Because of what we now know about the Delta variant and infections in those who are vaccinated, we updated our recommendations, including recommending masks in public, indoor settings in areas with substantial and high transmission, shown in orange and red on this map. It is also the reason we continue to recommend universal indoor masking in K-through-12 schools throughout the country so our children can safely get back to school and safely stay there.
In all of this, there is still good news. Our vaccines are working to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Vaccines are providing protection both for individuals and communities across the country.
As I have said before, this remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated, where the vast majority of spread is — in this country is among those who are unvaccinated.
I want to be clear: While vaccinated people can spread the virus if they get a breakthrough infection, the odds of them getting sick in the first place are far lower than those who are unvaccinated. And in fact, places with more vaccination generally have less disease.
We can see this on a population level on this slide, where we compare case counts and vaccination coverage by state, with vaccination coverage on the horizontal axis and case counts on the vertical axis.
States with the highest vaccination coverage are the dots furthest to the right on the graph, and states with the highest case counts are the dots closest to the top. Notice that the states that have lower vaccination coverage — those further to the left — have higher rates of community transmission, as shown in red and orange. States that have higher vaccination coverage — further to the right — have lower rates of cases, as shown in yellow.
There is any direct correlation with vaccine coverage and case rates. And I think it’s worth reiterating that public health prevention strategies, including masks, continue to work while you’re unvaccinated.
In the following outbreaks of cases in Barnstable County and in subsequent public health follow-up, we saw the power of vaccines and masks.
Over the month of July, there were a total of 934 confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to the outbreak in Barnstable County. With 73 percent of these infections in people who were vaccinated, there were only seven hospitalizations and no deaths.
Our vaccines did exactly what they were supposed to do: prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death.