The first known US case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant was detected in Colorado today, and President-elect Joe Biden says it could take years for most Americans to be vaccinated.
Those developments have occurred on the same day it was announced that US Representative-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana has died of Covid-19.
Letlow, 41, announced on 18 December that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“It is with heavy hearts that @FirstLadyOfLA and I offer our condolences to Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s family on his passing after a battle with COVID-19,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Twitter.
Letlow, a Republican, won a runoff election on 5 December for the 5th District seat, which represents Northeast and Central Louisiana, and was due to be sworn in on Sunday.
Biden’s prediction of a grim winter appeared aimed at lowering public expectations that the pandemic will be over soon after he takes office on 20 January, while also sending a message to Congress that his new administration wants to significantly increase spending to expedite vaccine distribution, expand testing and provide funding to states to help reopen schools.
Biden, a Democrat, said some 2 million people had been vaccinated, well short of the 20 million outgoing Republican President Donald Trump had promised by the end of the year. Biden defeated Trump in a November election.
“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” the Democrat said.
“It’s going to take years, not months, [at the current rate] to vaccinate the American people,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.
Shortly after his remarks, Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis announced on Twitter that his state had discovered a case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant B117, which was first detected in the United Kingdom.
Biden’s goal of ensuring that 100 million shots are administered by the end of his 100th day in office would mean “ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day,” Biden said, noting that it would require Congress to approve additional funding.
“Even with that improvement, even if we boost the speed of vaccinations to 1 million shots a day, it will still take months to have the majority of the United States’ population vaccinated,” he said.
He predicted that the situation may not improve until “well into March”.
Biden also said he planned to invoke the Defense Production Act, which grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security or other reasons, to accelerate the making of materials needed for the vaccine.
Trump has himself invoked the law during the pandemic.
To reopen schools safely, Biden said Congress would need to provide funding for such things as additional transportation so students could maintain social distancing and improved ventilation in school buildings.
Congress also needed help make Covid-19 tests more easily available and help pay for protective equipment for healthcare workers, Biden added.
Earlier in the day, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a Covid-19 vaccination live on television in a bid to boost confidence in the inoculation even while warning it would be months before it would be available to all.