‘YEARS TO COME’ — How bad is it out there? The CDC said today that Delta now accounts for 83 percent of new Covid cases in the U.S. Less than half of the country is fully protected against the highly transmissible variant.
These alarming trends led House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to get his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine over the weekend, calling the shots “safe and effective.” Fox News host Sean Hannity, who’s been openly skeptical of the severity of the virus, changed his tone Monday night. “We don’t need any more death,” he told his viewers. “Research like crazy. Talk to your doctor. … I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.”
Several fully vaccinated individuals on the Hill have tested positive for the virus — including the first known member of Congress since January — spurring a heightened sense of unease for the thousands of people who traverse the Capitol complex each day, Sarah Ferris and Katherine Tully-McManus write. Nearly half of House members are masked on the floor again, as dozens of House Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated. GOP leaders have postponed a planned August trip to Israel because of the variant.
A registered nurse administers a Covid-19 test to a person at Sameday Testing in Los Angeles. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
It’s unclear if these developments will do anything to change the minds of unvaccinated Americans, the group that is both most vulnerable and least concerned about the variant.
To get a better sense of this new stage of the pandemic, and how worrisome the rising caseloads in all 50 states are, Nightly talked with University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm about how he envisions Delta playing out in the U.S, and around the globe. This conversation has been edited.
The summer Covid surge is here. You predicted this months ago.
It’s not so much that I predicted this would happen. I said we have to prepare, because this virus is doing things that have not been predictable at all.
There’s no way at this point to project into the fall at all.
But isn’t the United States in a much better place to deal with a surge this summer than it was last year?
We still have 100 million people in the United States who are not yet vaccinated or have not yet had Covid, so they don’t have natural immunity. That’s more than an adequate amount to fuel a major upsurge. My biggest fear is that this virus is going to find them before they have a chance to get vaccinated, if they’re going to at all.
We track this stuff by every 12-hour period. Of the 51 states, which includes the District of Columbia, right now, 41 states including D.C. have seen increases of over 100 percent in the last 14 days. That’s the most we’ve seen since the pandemic began.
If you look at the other surges, they were much more regional: the southern Sun Belt states, the Northeast, the Midwest. Here we’ve got 41 states with increases of over 100 percent. We have 42 states with increased hospitalizations and 26 states are now seeing increases over 20 percent in the last 14 days.
We’re seeing increases over 100 percent, but aren’t cases and hospitalizations much lower than we saw last year?
You’re absolutely right, the numbers are much lower right now. But the point is where we’re at. It’s like comparing the second inning to the second inning versus the second inning to the ninth inning.
Figures from the Financial Times show that the rate of increase is actually higher than it was at the peak in January. If you look at Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, places like that, what the Financial Times showed is that for both total number of Covid patients and patients in ICU, they’re outstripping the previous peaks we saw in January.
It fits with under-vaccination in the U.S. A state like Minnesota, for example, overall we have 67.8 percent of our population vaccinated with one dose, 16 years of age and older. That number looks pretty good overall.
But when you look inside though, we’ve got five counties here in the central part of the state where the vaccination rates range from 43 to 47 percent. Even in a blue state like Minnesota, we’ve got these pockets of really under-vaccinated populations. We just don’t know how that’s going to unfold.
How do you expect Delta to play out on a global scale?
If you take the world’s top 10 to 12 countries of highest case rates: Three are located in Asia, or the Middle East. Three are located in Africa. Three are located in Latin America. And three are located in Europe. This is occurring globally at the same time. Delta is doing it.
We’ve got a long way to go globally, where we’ve got 6.4 billion people living in low- and middle-income countries where less than 2 percent of the population has had any access to vaccines.
I keep hearing people worried about variants spinning out of the cases in the U.S., which is surely a concern, but that pales in comparison to what the risk is of variants spinning out of the 6.4 billion people.
This is going to burn around and through the world for years to come yet.
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas for us at [email protected]. Or contact tonight’s author directly at [email protected] or @MyahWard.
Americans are sick of paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs — more than three times what people in other countries pay for the same medicine. The President, members of Congress in both parties, and the people agree: we must cut drug prices. By giving Medicare the power to negotiate, we can save hundreds of billions of dollars. Tell Congress: Cut prescription drug prices now.
— Pelosi aide, White House official test positive for Covid-19 after contact with Texas Democrats: A senior spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a White House official tested positive for Covid-19 after coming into contact with Democrats from the Texas state Legislature last week. The Pelosi spokesperson had helped show the Texas lawmakers, who came to Washington to stop their majority-conservative state legislature from passing new voting restrictions, around the Capitol.
— U.S. in final talks to house Afghan interpreters at Qatar, Kuwait military bases: The U.S. is in the final stages of talks to temporarily house a number of Afghan nationals who aided the U.S. war effort and their families at U.S. military bases in Qatar and Kuwait while they await approval of their visas, according to three people with knowledge of the plans. The first round of roughly 2,500 applicants will be flown to Fort Lee, an Army base in Virginia, starting this month, State Department spokesperson Ned Price announced today. The base will serve as a temporary holding station for Afghan nationals who have completed the security vetting and are in the final stages of their visa application process, officials said.
— Trump adviser Tom Barrack arrested on foreign-agent charges: Tom Barrack, a longtime supporter of and adviser to former President Donald Trump, was arrested today on charges he secretly acted in the U.S. as an agent for the United Arab Emirates. Barrack, 74, is accused of failing to register as a foreign agent, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and four counts of making false statements to the FBI.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including Tom Brady, visit White House: Biden sung the praises of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today, including star quarterback Tom Brady, who has rejected some past invitations to the White House. “It’s nice for me to be back here,” Brady said. The Super Bowl winning quarterback got laughs from Biden and others in attendance by jokingly comparing those who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election with people who have doubted the Buccaneers. “Not a lot of people think that we could have won; in fact about 40 percent of people still don’t think we won. Do you understand that, Mr. President?”
— Biden taps progressives’ favorite for DOJ antitrust post: Biden has picked Jonathan Kanter to serve as the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for antitrust, in a major win for progressive Democrats who have accused the agency of failing to aggressively pursue major tech companies’ anti-competitive and privacy violations.
PEGASUS FLIES INTO FURTHER CONTROVERSY — A mobile phone number used by French President Emmanuel Macron was selected for possible targeting with Pegasus spyware by a Moroccan intelligence service, Le Monde reported today.
It’s unclear whether the president’s phone was actually infected by the spyware and whether any information was extracted from it, the newspaper said.
The revelation came in the latest in a series of reports by an international consortium of media outlets and NGOs investigating the use of the spyware, made by Israeli company NSO. A phone number belonging to European Council President Charles Michel was also selected for possible targeting, probably by Morocco, in 2019 when he was prime minister of Belgium, the investigative consortium also reported.
The approximate distance above the earth the New Shepard rocket ship traveled this morning. Amazon founder and executive chair Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, blasted into space today and landed safely in West Texas 10 minutes later. Bezos, the 57-year-old owner of The Washington Post and the former CEO of Amazon, was joined by three other blue-suited crew members on the flight: his younger brother Mark Bezos, 53; American aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82; and Dutch incoming college student Oliver Daemen, 18.
BEHIND THE SCENES VAX DIPLOMACY — As Biden scrambles to convince hesitant Americans to get the Covid-19 vaccine, his White House has largely steered clear of Fox News, the major cable news outlet spreading unsubstantiated fears about vaccinations.
The White House has so far taken an arms-length approach to Fox, despite its strong following among supporters of Trump, who watch the network more regularly than any other cable outlet, and are less likely to be vaccinated than the average American. Administration officials have appeared only sparingly on the network to discuss the necessity of the vaccine and counter persistent doubts about its efficacy being voiced there. And off of Fox’s airwaves, they have been reluctant to call out the network, Christopher Cadelago and Sam Stein write.
That’s a contrast with the administration’s approach to social media platforms where vaccine misinformation has spread. Last week, Biden accused Facebook of “killing” people for not doing more to remove such misinformation — an accusation he later toned down.
White House officials said they recognize the need to reach Fox’s audience and insist that they are making efforts to do so. All told, members of Biden’s Covid-19 team have made roughly a dozen appearances on Fox since late January, albeit on a select few shows. Four appearances have been on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace”; three with the daytime anchor Neil Cavuto; and the others were on “America’s Newsroom” and newscasts hosted by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.
It’s outrageous that Americans pay more than three times what people in other countries pay for the same medicine. And these unfair prices keep going up. Even during the pandemic and financial crisis, the prices of more than 1,000 drugs were increased. It’s time for the President and Congress to cut prescription drug prices.
Currently, Medicare is prohibited by law from using its buying power to negotiate with drug companies to get lower prices for people. This must change. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate will save hundreds of billions of dollars.
And the American people agree. In a recent AARP survey of Americans 50+, a vast majority supported allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices, including 88% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans.
Tell Congress: Act now to lower prescription drug prices. Let Medicare negotiate.
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