WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A little-known agency that keeps the U.S. federal bureaucracy running is the biggest impediment to new efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Democratic President-elect Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
“There’s a whole lot of things that we just don’t have available to us,” Biden said, including real-time data on personal protective equipment and the distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines.
Emily Murphy, administrator of the General Services Administration, must “ascertain” the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election between Biden and Republican President Donald Trump. That is a condition of releasing funds and resources to the winner, but she has so far not done so.
Despite a clear margin of victory for Biden, Trump has refused to concede, and his legal challenges are fizzling.
Murphy has sole authority to release salaries, office space, official email addresses and intelligence briefings to an incoming administration, which formally takes over with Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health who leads the government’s COVID testing efforts, sounded the alarm on Wednesday that the country is in an “absolutely dangerous situation” as COVID-19 cases continue surging ahead of the holiday season.
During an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, Giroir said that both COVID-19 hospitalizations and fatalities being up by 25% week over week means that the country is “not going in the right direction.”
Giroir stressed that the country is at an “absolutely critical, dangerous point” as he urged the public to wear a mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19 because it’s “the only way we get out of this” until there’s a vaccine for the pandemic that has killed more than 249,000 Americans thus far.
“Right now, we are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness,” Giroir said. “This is not crying wolf. This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we’ve seen in the pandemic in the United States and right now there’s no sign of flattening.”Giroir reiterated that the public needs to be “incredibly concerned.”
Dr. Henry Walke, CDC’s Covid-19 incident manager, said there is “no more important time than now for each and every American to redouble our efforts to watch our distance, wash our hands and, most importantly, wear a mask.”
“CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period,” he said. “For Americans who decide to travel, CDC recommends doing so as safely as possible by following the same recommendations for everyday living.”
Walke added that the CDC is concerned “about the transportation hubs.” He said he’s worried people won’t be able to maintain social distancing while waiting in line, for example, to board buses and planes.
Fauci said that a recent University of Washington model projection that estimated the country could see another 200,000 deaths by March 1st might be accurate if Americans don’t change their behavior between now and then.
“The models, as I have said so often, are as good as the assumptions you put into the model. And we have got to change those assumptions,” Fauci said. “We have got to say, we are going to turn it around very, very vigorously adhering to the public-health measures. And we don’t need to get to that number.”