WASHINGTON — President Biden doesn’t believe the U.S. will see any new lockdowns in the coming months, even as he warned about the new Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is much more transmissible than other versions of the pathogen.
That variant originated in India and took hold in the U.K. during the course of the spring. Its rapid proliferation led British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay full reopening by a month. That reopening was supposed to take place on June 21, only to be scuttled by the new viral strain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed Delta a “variant of concern.” Its prevalence in the U.S. is rising, leading some to worry that the country could see a return of closures and restrictions just as society appears to be reemerging from 15 months of pandemic-induced misery.
Speaking on Friday from the White House, Biden sought to offer reassurance about a scenario similar to Britain’s, vowing that there would be no new lockdowns. Lockdown measures were lifted in much of the country in May and June 2020, only to return as the virus spread across Southeastern states like Florida, Texas and Georgia.
“Where people have gotten the two shots, the Delta variant is highly unlikely to result in anything,” the president said in a response to a reporter’s question, which followed his remarks on the nation’s vaccination effort. Three hundred million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered, and 44.7 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
But what worries Biden and public health officials are geographic disparities, as well as demographic ones. For example, 63.5 percent of Vermont’s entire population is vaccinated, but only 33.5 percent of Louisianans have had their coronavirus inoculations. Fourteen states had vaccinated fewer than 40 percent of their residents as of Friday morning. (Children under 12 are not yet authorized for vaccination in the U.S.)
“The Delta variant can cause more people to die where people have not been vaccinated,” Biden said. That variant is said to be 60 percent more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain. And partial vaccination does not seem to protect against the Delta variant as thoroughly as it does against other strains.
“If you have one shot, get the second shot — as soon as you can,” Biden pleaded.
Although some coronavirus restrictions remain in place across the country, those are falling away quickly. The states now at the highest risk from the Delta variant because of their low vaccination rates are, for the most part, the ones that were the quickest to cast off such restrictions. At the same time, it is impossible to predict just how state and municipal governments will respond to the Delta strain, especially since it is they, not the federal government, that decide when to close down public spaces and businesses.
Biden has set a goal of having 70 percent of American adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July weekend. The symbolic goal appears to be within his grasp, though the pace of vaccination has slowed markedly in recent weeks. And even as he cautioned about the new variant, the president vowed that “a summer of freedom” lay ahead.
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