March 12, 2021 at 2:45 am #100002234zpodiumKeymaster
At least twice, Biden spoke about the need for grandparents to reconnect with their grandchildren, a missing familial bond during a pandemic that the elderly are more susceptible to. Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Monday specifically allowed for fully vaccinated people to visit indoors with unvaccinated healthy people from a single household without wearing masks or physical distancing.
The directive to open up vaccine eligibility is part of a broader administration plan that Biden laid out during his address, with the goal of getting the U.S. closer to normal by July 4. The accelerated target is the most significant to date for Biden, who so far has refrained from setting overly ambitious goals related to the coronavirus.
Biden said there was a “good chance“ that Americans would be able to have small gatherings to celebrate the holiday, as long as Americans continued to take the pandemic seriously.
“After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special,“ he said. “Where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.“
His prime-time address came on the heels of his young presidency’s first major legislative victory, the Wednesday passage of his massive $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan to provide Covid relief. He signed the package into law on Thursday, just hours before his speech.
The White House, with the new funding from the stimulus plan, is planning to double the number of mass vaccination sites and pharmacies where people can get shots, while also surging medical personnel across the country. Biden’s health department is also expanding the pool of people qualified to administer vaccines to include a wide range of medical professionals, including paramedics, dentists and medical and health care students.
But the May 1 deadline for opening eligibility could irk some states, and risk further driving a wedge between the White House and governors who have sought control over their respective vaccination efforts. Some state leaders have already bristled at Biden’s order earlier this month to prioritize educators for vaccines — a directive that caught them off guard.
Almost two hours before Biden’s speech, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients held a brief call with governors to outline the new timelines and federal resources. Zients didn’t take questions from governors, according to a source on the call.
Only Alaska currently allows all adults to seek Covid vaccines, a decision that was announced earlier this week. Several other states, including Texas and New York, are planning to widen their eligibility in the coming days. But they have so far done so incrementally and at varying speeds.
Senior administration officials insisted that Biden has the authority to force states, tribes and jurisdictions to make the vaccine available to all American adults, and that they would be well-positioned to do so by May as supply ramps up.
“That’s much earlier than expected, and reflects our success working with the vaccine manufacturers to increase supply and secure doses,” a senior administration official said. “That doesn’t mean everyone will get a shot immediately. But May 1 is the day every adult will be eligible to sign up.”
That’s not to say everyone will be able to line up for a shot on May 1. The administration says it doesn’t expect to have enough vaccine for every adult until the end of May. And even then, it will take time to deliver and administer doses, not to mention persuade people hesitant or reluctant to get vaccinated. The administration also plans to deploy more than 4,000 troops to aid the vaccination push, and will start delivering vaccines to an additional 700 community health centers. By May 1, it will launch a website and call center dedicated to helping Americans sign up for their shots.
The White House on Friday is expected to announce a new mass vaccination site in Michigan, according to a senior administration official. The administration is also weighing new sites in Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington.
Biden’s speech on Thursday was sober and direct even as he touted the progress in fighting the pandemic. He denounced what he described as the vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.
“At this very moment so many of them, our fellow Americans, they‘re on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives and still, still they’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It‘s wrong. It‘s un-American. And it must stop,” he said.
At one point, Biden leaned onto the lectern, hands outstretched as he pleaded with Americans to wash their hands and don masks. “Keep wearing the mask as recommended by the CDC,” he urged. Later, he offered a warning about what might happen if they didn‘t “stay vigilant.“
“Then,“ he explained, “we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track.“
Biden also outlined a series of steps aimed at reopening schools, backed with fresh funding from the stimulus package Democrats passed without Republican votes. That will include pouring $130 billion into helping schools pay for the supplies needed to renovate their classrooms to meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety recommendations, the officials said, as well as to hire more staff.
The government will also invest $650 million into expanding testing in K-8 schools and congregate settings in underserved communities — a measure that the officials characterized as a “short-term bridge” to a more robust, national testing regime the country has lacked throughout the pandemic.
“The fight is far from over, we still have a lot of work to do,” a senior administration official said, previewing Biden’s message. “But together, unified, we can defeat this pandemic and we can celebrate a more normal Fourth of July gathering with family and friends in small groups.”
The Biden administration expects that the new legislation will also bring much-needed relief in direct payments to Americans. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Americans could feel the impact of the legislation almost immediately, with the “first wave” of checks arriving as early as this weekend. In the coming days, the president, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other surrogates will hit the road on a “Help is Here” tour, criss-crossing the country to tout the benefits of the stimulus. Among those benefits: the $1,400 checks, the billions of dollars that will go toward reopening schools and the investments to increase the number of vaccinations.
The Biden blitz will mark a shift in the administration’s strategy that takes on a more public-facing approach as the president has come under fire for his limited media availability. However, Biden has also received high marks for his handling of the pandemic and strong bipartisan support for the coronavirus legislation from the American public, even as no Republican lawmakers were willing to vote for it.
Biden and Harris are expected to appear together in Atlanta on March 19. Other stops next week include the president’s trip to Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and Harris’ stops in Las Vegas and Denver with second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, who will then travel to Albuquerque, N.M.
On top of the expected stimulus, there are other signs that the economy is on the mend, including the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report, released last Friday, with the economy adding a robust 379,000 jobs last month. The number of vaccinations has steadily increased as well, with the U.S. averaging more than 2 million doses administered a day.
Although optimistic, Biden’s evening message also reflected the caution that his administration and health officials have been calling for the past few weeks: Even as coronavirus numbers have dropped, the pandemic is not over and Americans need to remain vigilant. It’s a message that some GOP governors have rejected, such as in Texas, where businesses reopened at full capacity and a statewide mask mandate was lifted Wednesday. White House chief of staff Ron Klain emphasized that dealing with the pandemic was a “whole of country” effort, saying that Americans should continue to wear masks, socially distance and get vaccinated.
“The president is deploying our entire government to do its part,” he said Thursday evening on CNN. “The American people are going to have to do their part, too.”
The president’s anniversary speech marked a year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. On that day, then-President Donald Trump delivered a similar evening address, during which he boldly proclaimed: “The virus will not have a chance against us. No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.”
“We will not delay,” he said at the time. “I will never hesitate to take any necessary steps to protect the lives, health and safety of the American people.”
During his address, Biden criticized the previous administration for its slow coronavirus response, saying: “A year ago we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months. That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness.“
In recent days, Trump has also faced a backlash for not encouraging Americans — in particular, white Republicans who are skeptical of the vaccine — to get vaccinated after several news outlets reported that the Trumps quietly received their vaccinations in January. The former president took credit on Wednesday for the vaccines.
On Thursday, all living former presidents and first ladies — except the Trumps — appeared in new public service announcements, showing them receiving their shots and encouraging vaccinations.
Erin Banco, Rachel Roubein and Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.
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