The White House is readying COVID-19 "surge teams" to send to communities with low vaccination rates to help combat the rapidly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, officials announced Thursday.
The teams will work with local public health authorities to conduct contact tracing, and will distribute supplies as needed or requested by states, such as therapeutics and additional tests.
The teams will also help augment staffing at local vaccination sites.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsWhite House debates vaccines for air travel US to buy hundreds of millions more vaccine doses for the world: report Employers scramble to secure vaccine verification systems MORE said the administration will also increase advertisements about the benefits of vaccinations in hot spot communities.
The federal government has relied on teams from agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Authority to help bolster vaccine distribution since Biden took office, with a focus on underserved communities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Watch live: White House COVID-19 response team holds briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows MORE warned that the highly contagious delta variant is the most serious risk to unvaccinated communities. She said an estimated 25 percent of all infections nationwide are attributed to the delta variant which was originally found in India.
"Looking across the country we have made incredible progress towards ending the pandemic," Walensky said. "However, looking state by state and county by county, it is clear that communities where people remain unvaccinated are communities that remain vulnerable."
Walensky said there are about 1,000 counties in the country that have vaccination coverage of less than 30 percent, primarily in the south, east and Midwest.
"In some of these areas we are already seeing increasing rates of disease. As the delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people," Walensky said.
Despite the rise of the delta variant, health officials reiterated that the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. work and offer protection from severe illness and death.
Officials have urged unvaccinated people to wear masks, especially indoors, but said they have no intention of changing the CDC's recommendation that vaccinated people do not need masks.
Walensky said initial data from the past six months has shown 99.5 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in a select group of states occurred in unvaccinated people.
"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," Walensky said.