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White House response team, health officials hold COVID-19 briefing

The briefings, set for three times a week, are part of Biden’s attempt to rebuild trust and mobilize Americans to follow health guidance on the coronavirus.

WASHINGTON — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are down in recent weeks, but three mutations that are causing concern have been detected in the U.S.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday at the White House coronavirus briefing that most of the dozens of U.S. cases of coronavirus mutations, or variants, involve the strain first detected in the United Kingdom.

But three cases involving a worrisome mutation first detected in South Africa have also been confirmed, as well as one case involving a strain first detected in Brazil.

The UK strain spreads more easily and is believed to be deadlier, but the South Africa strain is prompting even more concern because of early indications that vaccines may not be as protective against it.

Walensky urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as shots become available to them, and stressed it’s no time to relax basic precautions such as wearing masks.

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Participants in the 11 a.m. ET briefing included Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, and Dr. Walensky. This is the second COVID-19 briefing under President Joe Biden since he took office a little less than two weeks ago.

During the first White House COVID-19 briefing, experts warned that there was a projection that as many as 90,000 more in the U.S. will die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks. The tone of the hourlong briefing was in line with President Joe Biden's promise to be straight with the nation about the state of the outbreak.

“I know this is not news we all want to hear, but this is something we must say so we are all aware,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week. “If we are united in action we can turn things around.”

The new briefings, set for three times a week, are part of Biden’s attempt to rebuild trust and mobilize Americans to follow health guidance on the coronavirus and to break down public resistance to the vaccine.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The United States has nearly 26 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Monday, the U.S. had more than 441,000 deaths from the virus. Worldwide, there are more than 103 million confirmed cases with more than 2.2 million deaths.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credit: AP
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, arrives for an event with President Joe Biden on the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)