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Biden’s New Covid Plan: Preparing for New Variants and Avoiding Shutdowns

Although Paxlovid pills have been relatively scarce since they were authorized late last year, Mr. Biden said in his speech on Tuesday that “Pfizer is working overtime to get us one million pills this month and more than double that next month.”

There is an average of about 60,000 new U.S. cases a day, according to a New York Times database. That is far less than the daily average of 800,000 in January, at the peak of the winter surge fueled by Omicron. But it is still much higher than the daily caseload last June, before Delta drove a summer surge.

Even as the White House asserts that things are getting better and new federal guidelines suggest 70 percent of Americans can stop wearing masks for now, large groups of people remain at risk. Children under 5 are not yet eligible for vaccines. On Monday, New York State health officials released data showing that Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is much less effective in preventing infection in 5- to 11-year-olds than in adolescents or adults.

And an estimated seven million Americans have weak immune systems, illnesses or other disabilities that make them more vulnerable to severe Covid. The White House announced last week that it was taking several steps to make masks and tests more accessible to those groups.

But Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at Yale University, said that with mask mandates dropping around the country, the administration — and in particular the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which relaxed its mask guidance last week — had put too much of a burden on vulnerable Americans to protect themselves.

One mask mandate that will not be dropped — at least not for the next few weeks — is the one Mr. Biden imposed on airplanes, trains and other forms of travel. Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that it would remain in effect until at least March 18, but that the C.D.C. is reviewing it.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Biden called on Congress to provide new funding for the administration to stockpile more tests, masks and pills. And he said that Americans who ordered free at-home tests from a government website, covidtests.gov, would be able to order more next week.

“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come,” Mr. Biden said. “But I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does.”

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