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As Covid cases rise, officials plead for more funding

Vaccines and antivirals have helped keep Covid patients out of the ICU, but funding for these vital tools will soon run out.
New York City Reports Uptick In Covid Cases
A person is tested at a Covid-19 testing van in Times Square on May 3, 2022 in New York City.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Biden administration officials are warning that without additional funding from Congress, the United States will not be able to purchase essential vaccines, treatments and tests for a potential surge in Covid cases in the fall.

The plea came during the first White House Covid Response Team briefing in more than a month — and as cases and hospitalizations are once again rising nationwide.

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Cases have reached a seven-day average of about 94,000, up more than 25 percent from last week, Centers for Disease Control Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing on Wednesday.

That number is likely a vast underestimate, however, given that positive results from rapid, at-home Covid tests are not usually reported to health authorities.

Two omicron subvariants are behind nearly all Covid cases currently circulating in the U.S., according to CDC data. About half are BA.2 and the other half are BA.2.12.1.

Covid-related hospitalizations are also rising. Walensky said that about 3,000 people are hospitalized every day with Covid on average — a 19 percent increase over the previous week.

But the number of people sick enough to be put in intensive care units is not rising as quickly as expected, Dr. Ashish Jha, who took on the role of White House Covid-⁠19 response coordinator in March, said during the briefing. He attributes the trend to vaccines and boosters, as well as the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

"Beyond the vaccinations and boosting," Jha said, "I think Paxlovid is making a very big difference." 

But, Jha said, without billions more in congressional funding, the administration will not have enough money to fulfill orders of Paxlovid — or additional vaccines — moving forward.

“Without additional funding from Congress, we will not be able to buy enough vaccines for every American who wants one once these new generations of vaccines come out in the fall and winter,” he said.

The White House requested $22.5 billion for Covid funding from Congress in March as part of a wider spending bill. But the Covid money was removed after pushback from House members who said they wanted more transparency about how the money already appropriated had been spent.

Since then, Democrats and Republicans have been in a stalemate for months over how much additional money for Covid should be provided and under what terms.

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As cases continue to rise, a growing number of communities are considered to be at medium or high Covid transmission levels, Walensky said.

Nearly one-third of Americans now live in an area with either medium or high community level spread, Walensky said. That includes the nation's most populous urban area, New York City.

Masks, while no longer mandated, are highly encouraged in high transmission areas, she said.

"Individuals should consider taking prevention measures based on their own risk, like avoiding crowds, wearing a mask and increasing their testing, especially before gathering with others indoors," she said during the briefing.

Fewer people overall are dying from Covid, but the illness still accounts for an average of 275 deaths a day.

"Each person lost to Covid-19 is a tragedy, and nearly 300 deaths a day is still far too many," Walensky said.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. was nearing 83 million total cases of Covid. More than 1 million people have died.

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