Fauci Warns of ‘Setback’ in COVID Fight After Brutal Polar Vortex

As states throughout the country continue to struggle with the fallout of a deadly polar vortex, senior Biden health officials are concerned that the days-long emergency will also lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks to come.

Over the past several days senior administration officials have scrambled to assemble a federal response to the winter emergency, primarily in Texas, but also in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other northwest and southern states. As part of that response, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have coordinated sending 60 generators, meals, blankets, water, diesel and other life saving supplies to Texas. President Joe Biden has approved emergency declarations in several states, and he’s personally spoken with dozens of local and state officials in Texas to see what more can be done to help those in need.

Beyond assessing and addressing the obvious risks that come with no power, water, or access to reliable health care, administration officials are working to understand the full magnitude of COVID-19 issues caused by the storm, including vaccination sites shutting down in more than six states and the delay in shipment of nearly 6 million vaccine doses. Officials say their biggest fear is that increased transmission among people gathering indoors together to find warmth will create a spike in new cases at a time when vaccination is slowing in the state due to weather conditions. The state was set to drastically expand vaccination before the storm hit by setting up a mass vaccination site in coordination with Pentagon and FEMA officials. Personnel assigned to help set up the site were delayed in reporting to Texas because of the snow.

“Look at the patterns of disease hospitalizations and deaths. They were really dramatically going in the right direction. I just hope that we’re going to bounce back and I think we will,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, in an interview Friday. “This is a setback. We need to continue to do whatever it is that we can—doing the same things we’ve done that we know work. I know, it’s tough to do that. When you’re not in your home, because the pipes have blasted out, you and your family are freezing and you might have to go to the shelter. It’s obvious that that’s not an optimal way to prevent the spread of disease. But hopefully that’ll get rectified quickly.”

Officials are also concerned that the situation on the ground, mainly the lack of water and power at hospitals, particularly in rural communities, will lead to the deaths of those who were already seeking care for the virus. One senior Biden official said there is no reliable way to track COVID-19 cases and deaths in real time but that they expect the Texas state health department to report both COVID-19-related deaths and other fatalities caused by the storm in the coming weeks.

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