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COVID-19 Surge Response Teams Are Being Sent Around The U.S. To Snuff Out Hotspots

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The federal government announced today that it is deploying special COVID-19 surge response teams to try to snuff out new hotspots that are emerging around the country. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us with details. Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Why are these teams being sent out now, and what is their goal?

STEIN: Yes. So they're being deployed because health officials are getting, you know, increasingly alarmed about the highly contagious delta variant that's triggering new outbreaks, especially in places where lots of people who still haven't gotten vaccinated. Here's what White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said today at today's COVID-19 briefing.

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JEFFREY ZIENTS: Today, given 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.

STEIN: So these teams - they'll be helping provide testing. They'll help track down people who might have gotten infected. They'll help treat sick people if necessary and also try to boost vaccinations. And the White House tells NPR that one of these teams is already on the ground in Colorado, and another will be heading to Missouri soon.

SHAPIRO: But put this into context for us because it seems like the numbers in the U.S. have been moving in the right direction for the last few months.

STEIN: Yes. So that's true. The country is doing much better. Cases have plummeted more than 95% since that winter surge. But during today's briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky noted that there's been a worrisome 10% jump in infections in the last week or so. Here's Dr. Walensky.

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ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Approximately 1,000 counties in the United States have vaccination coverage of less than 30%. These communities, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, are our most vulnerable. In some of these areas, we are already seeing increasing rates of disease.

STEIN: You know, and even some - the number of people ending up in the hospital with COVID-19 has started to rise again, too, in some of these places.

SHAPIRO: The Delta variant is obviously of primary concern here. What is the latest information about its spread in the U.S.?

STEIN: According to the latest CDC data, more than a quarter of all new infections are being caused by what Dr. Walensky calls this hypertransmissible variant. And in some parts of the country, it's already the dominant virus, like in some Midwestern and Western states. Now, the good news is all the vaccines look like they work really well against the delta variant, and that's why federal health officials are rushing to get more people vaccinated. Dr. Walensky says 99.5% of people dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

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WALENSKY: Any suffering or death from COVID-19 is tragic. With vaccines available across the country, the suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable.

SHAPIRO: That is Dr. Walensky brought to us by NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks, Rob.

STEIN: You bet, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIA KENT'S "INTENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.