© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House on Tuesday urged Republican leaders in Florida and Texas to follow public health guidelines on the pandemic or “get out of the way” as the United States struggles to contain the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
On a day when the White House announced that the United States had donated more than 110 million vaccine doses to more than 60 countries, it kept its focus largely on the crisis at home – outbreaks in two Republican-led states accounting for a large share of rising COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has opposed strict COVID-19 restrictions. On Friday, he issued an order blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools. Texas Governor Greg Abbott also has opposed strict restrictions in his state.
“If you are not going to be a part of the solution, if you are not going to be a part of saving people’s lives, then get out of the way and let other people do the job,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday, previewing later remarks by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
“That means don’t ban, don’t make it harder for people to put requirements on masks or asking for vaccination status into law,” she said.
One-in-three new COVID-19 cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas in the past week, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday.
Psaki said the White House was in discussions with both states about offering help to address the problem.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Monday that, as of Saturday, there were about 72,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in the United States, a 44% increase over the previous week and higher than the peak in the summer of 2020.
The White House on Tuesday called its international vaccine donation effort “a major milestone” in the pandemic fight.
Biden, who is scheduled to deliver remarks on efforts to combat the novel coronavirus later on Tuesday, had earlier pledged to donate at least 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide, a number it has surpassed.
“Today’s announcement is a fulfillment of his promise and a significant downpayment on hundreds of millions of more doses that the U.S. will deliver in the coming weeks,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the majority of doses were shared via COVAX, an international program aimed at helping developing countries access COVID-19 vaccines.
In late August, the United States will also start shipping 500 million doses of Pfizer Inc (NYSE:) and BioNTech SE’s vaccine to 100 lower-income countries, the statement said.
Advocates believe the United States could be sharing even more.
“We could give away lots of what we have and still be fine,” said Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health.
Helping the rest of the world would benefit the United States in its domestic fight as well, he added.
“If we don’t control it everywhere, we’re not gong to control it anywhere,” Gonsalves said.
COVAX, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, seeks to secure 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for countries in need by the year’s end.
In June, a WHO official said many nations did not have enough doses to continue vaccination efforts or had simply run out.
The White House on Tuesday said it would work with COVAX and other regional partners to ensure the donated vaccines were equitably delivered.