President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers on Sunday called for urgent action to address the nation’s “deeply alarming” COVID-19 epidemic and warned that Republican President Donald Trump’s transition delay could further jeopardize the battle against the virus, including vaccine distribution planning.
They also urged Congress to immediately pass bipartisan financial relief even before Biden, a Democrat, takes office on Jan. 20, as daily COVID-19 cases shattered U.S. records and strained hospitals nationwide, 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.”
Daily new infections in recent days have more than doubled single-day highs reported during the previous U.S. peak in mid-July. Total U.S. COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began are approaching 11 million, with 245,581 related deaths, the most in the world. The number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals has reached an all-time high.
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.
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.
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.