Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the new White House coordinator for Covid-19, said on Tuesday that as the United States sees an increase in known coronavirus cases and is closely monitoring new options, the administration is not looking to stop every infection.
Appearing for the first time at a White House news briefing since he took on the role earlier this month, Dr. Jha cited a relatively small number of new deaths – though around 300 a day is “still too many,” he added. , — and hospitalizations at their lowest point in the pandemic. Amid a growing number of cases across the country, these numbers represent a promising “inflection point,” he said.
Asked what Americans should do about senior people like Vice President Kamala Harris who test positive for the virus, Dr Jah said that with such a contagious virus, it would be “difficult to ensure that no one gets Covid in America” .
“It’s not even a political goal,” he said. “The goal of our policy should be to minimize cases of infection as much as possible while still making sure people don’t become seriously ill.”
The average number of confirmed new cases per day in the United States — more than 49,000 daily as of Monday, according to the New York Times database — is comparable to levels last seen in late July, even though the number of cases has increased by more than than 50 percent over the previous year. For the past two weeks, infectious disease experts have attributed the trend to new Omicron sub-variants.
Dr Jha warned that “we will see an increase and decrease in cases during this pandemic as we move into the weeks, months and years ahead.” A more important reflection of progress will be whether health systems are overwhelmed and whether people are hospitalized and dying from Covid-19, he said.
Since the introduction of Omicron in the United States, other senior federal health officials have made similar arguments. Dr. Janet Woodcock, then acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told lawmakers in January that infections are inevitable for many people.
“It’s hard to understand what’s really happening right now, which is that most people will get Covid,” she said. “What we need to do is make sure hospitals can continue to function, transportation, you know, other essential services won’t be disrupted while this is happening.”
This thinking is anchored in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent changes to mask-wearing guidelines, which use Covid-related hospitalizations and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, in addition to virus case counts, as markers of whether communities may go without masks.
About 15,000 people are in U.S. hospitals with the virus every day, matching the numbers in the first weeks of the pandemic. Dr. Jha on Tuesday pointed to the protection provided by vaccines and treatments, including Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral pills, with which he says the administration is making new efforts to reach vulnerable Americans and doctors, he says, are too hesitant to prescribe a drug.
He also urged legislators to fund more of the federal response to Covid-19 as an aid package that will put $10 billion into the effort stalled in the Senate. Dr. Jah showed a graph showing other countries investing in more vaccines and medicines, which clearly indicates that the United States is not prioritizing the same issues.
This aid package does not include what the White House had hoped would be additional billions in funds for the global Covid-19 response effort, including gun-shotting work.
“There are people in this country who sometimes think that we can only take an internal approach to a global pandemic,” said Dr. Jha. “That’s not the point. You can’t do it.”