White House to Send ‘Surge Teams’ to COVID-19 Hotspots

Federal health professionals will be sent to counties where vaccinations rates are lowest, and Delta variant infections are highest.

The COVID-19 Delta variant has slowed the progress seen in the last few months against SARS-Co-V-2 as new cases are on the rise again in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Delta variant opportunistically strikes at those states where vaccination rates are lowest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Biden administration said last week that it will send “surge teams” to counties in states where the vaccination rates are low. Take, for instance, Arkansas. Less than 35% of residents in that state were fully vaccinated as of Sunday, and the state averaged 16 new cases per 100,000 residents every day over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins. That’s about five times the nationwide rate of new cases.

Michael Newshel, a health care analyst for Evercore ISI, says that Nevada and Missouri have had the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in recent weeks, and there have been recent outbreaks in Utah, Nebraska, and Wyoming, as well.

Jeffrey Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said at a press conference, that “what we are seeing with the spread of Delta in some communities in the country, we're intensifying our efforts to help states prevent, detect and respond to hotspots among the unvaccinated by mobilizing COVID-19 surge response teams to be at the ready to deploy federal resources and, where needed, federal personnel.”

A CDC surge team has already been deployed in Mesa County, Colo, and another one is set to be deployed soon to Missouri.

According to Johns Hopkins, states with lower rates of vaccination reported an average of 6 new cases per 100,000 residents every day over the past week as of Sunday. On the other hand, states with higher vaccination rates reported an average of 2.2 new cases per 100,000 residents each day over the past week.

The surge teams will work with public health department officials to conduct contact tracing. They will also distribute supplies such as therapeutics or COVID-19 tests and bolster staffing levels at vaccination sites, as the Hill reports.

The move comes as the Biden administration fell short of having at least 70% of the U.S. population having received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by July 4. More than 172 million Americans, or about 67% of the adult population, have received 1 dose of the vaccine. About 156 million Americans, or 47% of the adult population have received both doses of the vaccine.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a press conference last week that an estimated 25% all infections nationwide have resulted from the Delta variant. Walensky said that while “incredible progress” has been made in the battle against COVID-19, she added that “looking state by state and county by county, it is clear that communities where people remain unvaccinated are communities that remain vulnerable….

Walensky said there are about 1,000 counties in the country that have vaccination coverage of less than 30%, primarily in the south, east and Midwest. “As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people,” Walensky said.

The CDC already has deployed a response team to Mesa County, Colo., which has experienced a surge of cases linked to the variant. That team is helping support state officials’ efforts to investigate the spread of the outbreak. Another team is preparing to deploy to Missouri.