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President-elect Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus "rescue" plan on Thursday that would pump $400 billion directly into efforts to fight the pandemic, with the rest focused on economic relief and state and local aid.
""I know what I just described will not come cheaply," Biden said during a speech Thursday night. "But failure to do so will cost us dearly. The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there's not time to waste. We have to act and we have to act now."
Called the "American Rescue Plan," the legislative proposal would meet Biden's goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while reopening most schools by the spring, the Associated Press reported.
About $20 billion would go toward a more disciplined focus on the national vaccine rollout, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile vaccination units to hard-to-reach areas, the AP reported.
Another $50 billion will go toward a massive expansion of testing, while $130 billion would be used to help schools reopen safely, the Washington Post reported.
Former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler has been chosen by Biden to help lead Operation Warp Speed. Kessler is a pediatrician and lawyer who led the Food and Drug Administration under former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, The New York Times reported.
The ambitious new plan was welcomed by health professionals, including National Nurses United (NNU), which represents 170,000 nursing professionals across the country.
"NNU leaders have been regularly meeting with the Biden transition team for the last two months and we are very pleased that this plan contains so many of the items we proposed," NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo said in a statement.
"We urge Congress to take this plan up immediately after the inauguration, and we look forward to working with the incoming administration on implementing this plan with the urgency that is required to confront this pandemic," Castillo said.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) also weighed in on Biden's proposal.
"In particular, we are pleased that it includes much-needed additional funding to significantly scale up vaccine distribution and administration," AHA President Rick Pollack said in a statement. "Hospitals and health systems are working tirelessly to administer vaccines as quickly and safely as possible, but to get to the scale our country needs for herd immunity, we need additional assets and other stakeholders to join us. This plan will help put more boots on the ground for contact tracing and getting more shots into arms."
"Additionally, we are encouraged that this plan puts forth additional substantial funding for COVID-19 testing and surveillance, investments in PPE supply so we can continue to protect our workforce, and therapeutics to treat COVID-19 patients," Pollack added. "The plan also helps expand coverage options for the uninsured and addresses disparities in care."
US vaccine rollout nears 1 million doses a day
One month after the United States began what has become a troubled rollout of a national COVID vaccination campaign, the effort is finally gathering real steam.
Close to a million doses -- over 951,000, to be more exact -- made their way into the arms of Americans on Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. That's the largest number of shots given in one day since the rollout began and a big jump from the previous day, when just under 340,000 doses were given, CBS News reported.
That number is likely to jump quickly now that the federal government has given states the OK to vaccinate anyone over 65 and said it would release all the doses of vaccine it has available for distribution. Meanwhile, a number of states have now opened mass vaccination sites in an effort to get larger numbers of people inoculated, CBS News reported.
But even with the recent pickup in vaccinations, more than two-thirds of the doses sent to states have yet to be administered. As of Thursday, over 30.6 million doses had been shipped to all 50 states and all U.S. territories. Of those, just over 11 million had actually been used, CDC data shows.
The urgency of the vaccination campaign began even more apparent on Wednesday after scientists at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center reported the emergence of a potentially more contagious U.S. variant that has acquired three gene mutations not previously seen together in the virus. The findings are under review for publication in BioRxiv, an online repository of research that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The evolving variant with three new mutations became the dominant virus in Columbus between late December and January, the researchers said.
"This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we've studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution," study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology at Ohio State, said in a university news release.
"The big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective," added Peter Mohler, study co-author and chief scientific officer at Wexner. "At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use."
A global scourge
By Friday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 23.3 million while the death toll passed 388,700, according to a New York Times tally. On Friday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 2.9 million cases; Texas with nearly 2.1 million cases; Florida with more than 1.5 million cases; New York with over 1.2 million cases; and Illinois with more than 1 million cases.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
In India, the coronavirus case count was over 10.5 million by Friday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 8.3 million cases and over 207,000 deaths as of Friday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 93.2 million on Friday, with nearly 2 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
SOURCES: Associated Press; New York Times; Washington Post
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