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Uncertainty looms as America struggles to put Covid in rearview mirror

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
A registered nurse administers a Covid-19 test to Blake Hardy at Sameday Testing on July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles.
A registered nurse administers a Covid-19 test to Blake Hardy at Sameday Testing on July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — For the first time in Joe Biden’s presidency, the Covid-19 situation has gotten worse.

Confirmed cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. Daily vaccinations are down. Breakthrough infections are happening at the White House and on Capitol Hill. Masks and mask mandates are once again a topic of debate for schools.

And what it’s all done is create uncertainty — including political uncertainty — at a time when the expectation was that the pandemic was going to be in the nation’s rearview mirror.

What does it mean for a Republican Party given that this surge is coming primarily from red states and red counties — and after some GOP officials and conservative voices have peddled misinformation and distrust about vaccines? (Strikingly, we’re seeing some Republicans and conservatives change their tune, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise saying he finally got vaccinated, and with Fox News’ Sean Hannity telling his audience to take Covid-19 seriously and believe in vaccines.)

What does it mean for a return to work, school and business as usual in America?

What does it mean for upcoming gubernatorial elections in California and Virginia, where progress against Covid-19 and a return to normalcy have been baked into political assumptions about those contests?

And what does it mean for President Biden, who has staked so much of his early presidency in defeating the coronavirus, who recently said “we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus”?

Of course, it’s also possible that these rising cases and hospitalizations are just a temporary blip. Covid fatalities remain at lows. And vaccinated Americans remain well protected against serious harm and death.

But it’s also clear — now six months into Biden’s presidency — that the United States isn’t completely independent from the coronavirus.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

83 percent: The estimated share of Delta variant Covid-19 cases out of all new cases in America, per the CDC director.

1.5 years: The drop in U.S. life expectancy over the last year, thanks in large part to Covid-19 and drug overdose deaths.

50 years: How long it’s been since the Milwaukee Bucks won last won the NBA title.

1.2 million: The number of people displaced by massive floods in Zhengzhou, China.

34,327,812: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 68,726 more since yesterday.)

612,861: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 342 more since yesterday.)

338,491,374: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 243,940 since yesterday.)

48.7 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

59.6 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Tweet of the day

Today’s test vote on infrastructure

NBC’s Frank Thorp and NBC’s Capitol Hill team report that the U.S. Senate will vote around 3:00 p.m. ET on the procedural motion to move forward with the unfinished bipartisan infrastructure package.

That motion by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, which needs 60 votes to proceed, appears destined to fail in the face of potentially unanimous Republican opposition.

Republicans, per NBC’s Hill team, “are calling on Schumer to delay this vote until Monday of next week to give them the time they say they need to finish the package. Schumer appears to be ignoring those calls.”

Thorp reminds us: Today’s vote is not a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package — it's a procedural vote to end debate on a motion to proceed to an unrelated House-passed bill that Schumer intends to use as a vehicle (or shell) to replace with the finished bipartisan package once it's done.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Former President Trump’s inaugural committee chair has been charged with acting as an agent of the UAE, obstruction of justice and lying to law enforcement.

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking new restrictions on abortion in Arkansas.

The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. and Germany have agreed to a deal on the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the highest-profile Democrat running to dethrone GOP Sen. Ron Johnson.

An uptick in Covid-19 cases around the Capitol complex has some lawmakers worried.