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White House offers COVID-19 surge teams to Florida, other states as cases soar

Florida has not requested assistance.
Miami, Florida,- A nurse prepares medication to be administered to a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 23, 2021 in Miami, Florida.
Miami, Florida,- A nurse prepares medication to be administered to a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 23, 2021 in Miami, Florida. [ JOSE A IGLESIAS | el Nuevo Herald ]
Published Aug. 2

WASHINGTON — The White House is offering coronavirus surge response teams and other federal resources to governors in all 50 states as cases increase nationwide from the spread of the delta variant, straining local hospitals and driving vaccinated people to resume wearing masks.

Jeff Zients, head of the White House COVID-19 response team, in a letter dated Thursday and obtained by McClatchy, said the Biden administration is prepared to send additional federal resources wherever they are requested, including supplies from the strategic national stockpile.

“The spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant is leading to increases in COVID-19 cases across the country, with the impact primarily occurring among unvaccinated individuals and in under-vaccinated communities,” Zients wrote. “Unfortunately, the rise in cases can stress the hospital and clinical care infrastructure in some states.”

Some states experiencing a rise in cases, such as Missouri and Colorado, have already accepted federal help. “Surge response teams” arrived on the ground in both states in recent weeks and have been helping local officials integrate federal resources into their responses.

Those teams often include experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, who are able to accelerate the delivery of federal resources such as additional staffing for vaccination and testing sites or funding to increase medical personnel when hospitals are reaching capacity.

Some states disproportionately affected by the spread of the delta variant — including Florida, where 86 percent of intensive care unit beds are now occupied — have not requested assistance.

Zients said the federal government is offering case investigators, epidemiologists and data analysts to assist local governments on the ground, as well as the deployment of mobile vaccination clinics, funding and training to combat vaccine hesitancy, and the delivery of therapeutics, ventilators, and other supplies.

“Our COVID-19 Surge Response Teams are available to augment your state’s pandemic response and tailor federal resources to your needs,” Zients wrote. “Federal assistance can include helping you with vaccine access and uptake, testing, lifesaving therapeutics, and hospital capacity.”

Related: This Florida COVID surge is different. So is the state's response.

“We urge you and your health and emergency management teams to reach out at the earliest signs of stress on any of your health systems,” he added.

The letter was sent as the Biden administration began adjusting to a new phase in the coronavirus pandemic that amounts to a setback in the country’s attempt to reopen to public gatherings and move on from masks and social distancing.

The CDC issued new guidance recommending that vaccinated people resume wearing masks when in public indoor spaces, after a recent study indicated that vaccinated people who get infected with the delta variant can easily spread the virus to others.

Surge response teams are ready to deploy in response to the delta variant, “and any other variants that may arise,” Zients said.

“The federal government stands ready to assist and support you in this moment,” he wrote.

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