WASHINGTON - After President Joe Biden signed 10 executive orders Thursday aimed at getting the worsening coronavirus pandemic under control, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who was scheduled to hold her second daily press conference, relinquished the podium in the White House press briefing room to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, summarized the status of the pandemic amid a devastating surge, which has pushed new case counts and death tolls higher than ever before in dozens of states across the U.S.
The United States recently surpassed 400,000 coronavirus deaths, far more than any other country in world, but Fauci told reporters that he thinks the influx in new cases could finally be peaking.
Fauci said he believes cases of COVID-19 in the country "might be plateauing."
Fauci warned of coronavirus mutations identified in other countries, including Britain, which he says have been found in more than 20 U.S. states. But he said a highly contagious mutation first found in South Africa has not yet been reported in the U.S.
Fauci said coronavirus mutations do not necessarily mean a more deadly strain, but a quick-spreading variant means that vaccination efforts are even more critical to curbing the spread of the virus
Fauci warned that coronavirus variants that can spread more quickly lead to more hospitalizations, which would inevitably lead to more deaths.
"So even though the virus on a one-to-one basis isn’t more serious, the phenomenon of a more transmissible virus is something that you take seriously," Fauci said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci arrives for US President Joe Biden address about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021.
When asked by a reporter regarding the company Amazon’s involvement in the federal response to distributing vaccines, Fauci said he couldn’t answer that question. "One of the new things in this administration is if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess," Fauci said.
When asked if he feels less constrained under Biden’s administration, Fauci said, "It is very clear that there were things that were said regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that that really was uncomfortable because they were not based in scientific fact."
"I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president so it was really something that you didn't feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn't be repercussions about it," Fauci continued.
Fauci’s reference was to Trump’s push for the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, which was widely disputed by medical experts and proven to have deleterious effects. The FDA eventually cautioned against its use outside of clinical settings.
"The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what evidence, what the science is and let the science speak, it is somewhat of a liberating feeling," Fauci said.
A reporter pointed out that Fauci had "basically vanished" for several months after being drowned out by Trump and asked if he felt like he was back, to which Fauci replied, "I think so."
Biden signed a series of executive orders Thursday, including one broadening the use of the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production.
Biden also signed an order mandating masks for travel, including in airports and planes, ships, trains, buses and public transportation, as well as one directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states for some costs related to their COVID-19 response and to provide funds to help reopen schools.
Biden is ordering FEMA to begin setting up vaccination centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin a program to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month. And he’s mobilizing the Public Health Service to deploy to assist localities in vaccinations.
The administration is aiming to provide 100 million vaccine injections during the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency, an initial step toward getting the country inoculated so that schools and businesses can fully reopen.