Officials in the incoming Biden administration braced the country for continued hardship in the days after the inauguration, with the president-elect assuming control of a struggling economy and surging coronavirus outbreak in less than three days.
Ron Klain, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s incoming White House chief of staff, had a dire forecast for the course of the coronavirus outbreak in the new administration’s first weeks, predicting that half a million Americans will have died from the coronavirus by the end of February. The current toll is nearing 400,000.
“The virus is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Klain said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “People who are contracting the virus today will start to get sick next month, will add to the death toll in late February, even March, so it’s going to take a while to turn this around.”
Daily U.S. deaths from the virus have risen to nearly 4,000 a day, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sounded the alarm about a fast-spreading, far more contagious variant of the coronavirus that it projects will become the dominant source of infection in the country by March, potentially fueling another wrenching surge of cases and deaths.
Mr. Klain, in comments directed at reports that a reserve of additional vaccines that the Trump administration had promised to states did not exist, said that his team was “inheriting a huge mess” in terms of vaccine production and distribution.”
“But we have a plan to fix it,” Mr. Klain said, alluding to a federal vaccination campaign that Mr. Biden announced on Friday. “We think there are things we can do to speed up the delivery of that vaccine.”
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that he, too, had been trying to sort through the confusion about how many vaccine doses were held by the federal government and where they were going.
“I think there was just a misunderstanding,” Dr. Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “When doses were released, an equal amount was kept back to make sure if there was any glitches in the supply flow that the people who got their first doses would clearly get their second doses,” he said.
Once it was clear that production of the vaccines would be reliable, he added, “the decision was made, instead of just giving enough for the first dose and holding back for the second dose, that as soon as they got the doses available, they would give it because now they would have confidence that the next amount they would get.”
Brian Deese, the incoming head of the National Economic Council, also stressed the urgency of passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that the incoming Biden administration had unveiled last week to assist in the recovery effort, pointing to data suggesting increasing unemployment and that more Americans are going hungry.
“The truth is, we’re at a very precarious moment,” Mr. Deese said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve got an acute economic crisis and human crisis, and we need decisive action.”