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Seems like last year, but this was Thursday in Orlando. Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

The Biden administration's handling of the Delta surge has left Americans confused and frustrated, fueling media overreaction and political manipulation.

Why it matters: The past year and a half have left Americans cynical about the government's COVID response, and — in many cases — misinformed or uninformed. We're getting fog and reversals when steady, clear-eyed, factual information is needed more than ever.

The past five days were a mess. On Tuesday, the CDC updated its guidance to say vaccinated people in hot spots should wear masks in indoor, public settings — without an easy, definitive way to know if you're in a hot spot.

  • This was a reversal from the CDC's announcement on May 13 — 75 days earlier — that fully vaccinated people could shed masks in most indoor settings, which President Biden called "a great day for America in our long battle with the coronavirus."
  • On Thursday, the Washington Post obtained a CDC deck that included the eye-opening line: "Delta variant is as transmissible as: - Chicken Pox."
  • Yesterday, a CDC report showed the reversal was driven partly by a cluster of COVID cases in Provincetown, Mass., on Cape Cod, in which three-quarters of the infected people were fully vaccinated. Only a few people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.
  • The resulting lead headline of today's print New York Times: "IMMUNIZED PEOPLE CAN SPREAD VIRUS, THE C.D.C. REPORT." The online version adds the vital qualifier: "Though Rarely."

The alarmist coverage irritated the White House. A senior Biden administration official told CNN's Oliver Darcy: "The media's coverage doesn't match the moment ... It has been hyperbolic and frankly irresponsible in a way that hardens vaccine hesitancy."

  • Ben Wakana of the White House COVID Response Team tweeted: "VACCINATED PEOPLE DO NOT TRANSMIT THE VIRUS AT THE SAME RATE AS UNVACCINATED PEOPLE AND IF YOU FAIL TO INCLUDE THAT CONTEXT YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG."

Between the lines: Administration officials are awkwardly dancing around the fact that they've run out of politically palatable ways to try to convince people to get their shot.

  • Delta is getting out of control, and becoming angry or coercive with the unvaccinated could go badly.

The bottom line: If you're vaccinated, sure, be more careful — but don't stress out. If you're unvaccinated and you can get a shot, go get it.

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Go deeper

18 hours ago - Health

Long COVID: A disabling disease

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Millions of Americans are still suffering from a wide spectrum of symptoms long after they've recovered from their original coronavirus infections, and it's very unclear what the disease's trajectory is — or even how many people are affected.

What we're watching: We still don't have a good grasp on how susceptible vaccinated people are to long COVID. If the condition remains a threat even for the vaccinated, that could shape the risks people are willing to take in the future.

18 hours ago - Health

We're the architects of our own COVID destiny

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

We're almost certainly going to have to live with the coronavirus, in some form, for the foreseeable future. But what that means will be shaped in large part by what we do now.

Why it matters: More than half of the world — and a substantial portion of Americans — remains unvaccinated. Getting these rates up could mean the difference between the virus becoming a back-burner nuisance, or something that continues to define our lives for years to come.

18 hours ago - Health

More virus, more risk, more social distancing

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

When the Delta variant caused coronavirus infections to spike over the summer, Americans began thinking of COVID as a larger risk and resumed social distancing.

Why it matters: Life won't look normal until there's much less virus around — even if the majority of the population is vaccinated — as millions of people will voluntarily try to avoid it.

Go deeper: America's mismatched COVID fears