America’s top health official is warning of ‘impending doom,’ as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths all spike ominously in the U.S.
‘I am scared,’ said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr Rochelle Walensky during an emotional Monday press briefing.
‘When I first started at CDC about two months ago, I made a promise to you: I would tell you the truth, even if it was not the news you wanted to hear. Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust that you will listen.
‘I am going to pause here, I’m going to lose the script and I am going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom…we have so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared.’
In the past week, the average number of new daily infections has risen by 10 percent to nearly 60,00 a day, according to the CDC’s data.
And hospitalizations have risen to more than 4,800 new admissions a day.
Even new daily deaths, a metric that typically doesn’t rise until weeks after new infections increase, have increased by about three percent, to just shy of 1,000 a day, compared to the prior seven-day rolling average.
‘I’m speaking to you today not necessarily as your CDC director and not only as your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but we are not quite there.
‘So I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to please get vaccinated when you can, so that all those people we all love will still be here when the pandemic is over,’ Dr Walensky said in an emotional plea.
‘I am scared,’ said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr Rochelle Walensky during a an emotional Monday press briefing (file)
Dr Walensky was visually shaken as she recounted the horrors she has seen as a physician on the front lines of the pandemic.
‘I know what it’s like s a physician to stand in that patient room, gowned, gloved, masked and shielded and to be the last person to touch someone else’s love one because there loved one couldn’t be there,’ she said.
WHO IS CDC DIRECTOR DR ROCHELLE WALENSKY?
Dr Rochelle walensky was appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by President Biden in December, ahead of the January 20 Inauguration.
Previously Dr Walenksy was the chief of the infectious diseases division of Massachusetts General Hospital.
She also taught medicine at Harvard University.
However, her primary focus was in HIV/AIDs – a background she shares with Dr Anthony Fauci.
Dr Walensky has also never held a governmental public health position.
She admitted in a speech responding to her appointment to the CDC that she never intended to go into public service.
Instead, made a name for herself by improving HIV screening and treatment in South Africa, as well honing trial design in the U.S.
When the pandemic hit, however, Dr Walensky worked on the front lines of the pandemic.
Her appointment was met with enthusiasm from many doctors, but some were incredulous because she had never held office.
Dr Walensky became a vocal critic of the pandemic response under former President Trump, particularly on Twitter.
However, she has not managed to entirely eliminate the communication gaffs and pattern of conflicting information from various parts of the White House.
While Dr Walensky hinted in February that the CDC would not require teachers to be vaccinated in order to reopen schools, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said shortly thereafter that this was not the case.
Dr Walensky has mostly remained measured throughout the pandemic, but broke her typical calm to make a more dramatic pleas with the American public on Monday.
‘I know that feeling of nausea when you read the crisis standard of care and you wonder if there are going to be enough ventilators to go around and who is going to make that choice.
‘And I know what it’s like to pull up to the hospital every day and see the extra morgue.
‘I didn’t know at the time when it would stop. We didn’t have the science to tell us. We were just scared.’
Dr Walensky pointed at the fourth suge that is now in full swing in countries like Germany, Italy and France. She said that the trends in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in those countries looked
She issued a plea with Americans to redouble their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to encourage their friends families and social networks to do the same.
‘We are not powerless, we can change the trajectory of the pandemic, but it will take all of us recommitting to following the public health prevention strategies consistently, while we work to get the American public vaccinated,’ Dr Walensky said.
‘I am calling on every one of you to sound the alarm, to carry these messages into your community and your spheres of influence. We do not have the luxury of inaction.
‘For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge.’
After hovering for weeks at about 50,000, the seven-day rolling average of new Covid cases in the U.S. is now more than 63,000, with 43,694 new infections recorded Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
More than half of states saw new cases rise by more than 10 percent last week, compared to the preceding week, and Michigan officials say the surge dreaded nationwide is already upon the state.
Another 506 Americans died of COVID-19 on Sunday.
Dr Anthony Fauci has echoed Dr Walensky’s concerns, callin the the easing of pandemic restrictions ‘premature’ and warned of the potential for another U.S. surge in COVID-19 as cases spike New York and New Jersey, signalling another wave could be about to crash.
‘What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen. Now, several states have done that. I believe it’s premature,’ Dr. Fauci told CBS News’ Face The Nation on Sunday.
New York has taken gradual steps to reopen, such as expanding indoor dining capacity and reopening movie theaters, but has not moved as dramatically as other states such as Texas and Mississippi.
Nonetheless, New York is seeing one of the steepest increases in new Covid cases in the nation, with more a seven-day rolling average of 8,500 as of Sunday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has called the easing of pandemic restrictions ‘premature’ and warned of the potential for another U.S. surge in COVID-19 as cases spike in New York
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has long taken a cautious attitude toward easing restrictions on business and social life, and once again warned that a dangerous surge could be around the corner.
‘When you’re coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you’re really in danger of a surge coming up,’ said Fauci.’
‘And unfortunately, that’s what we’re starting to see.’
‘What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen,’ he said.
Spring Breakers flouted measures like masking and social distancing over the past several weeks, especially in Florida where partiers mobbed streets in Miami’s South Beach area, prompting the deployment of SWAT teams and police forces.
Despite a lax attitude toward Covid restrictions, the state saw a precipitous decline in new coronavirus infections between January and mid-March – but cases are beginning to rise again, with a seven-day rolling average of nearly 5,600.
That’s an increase of about 25 percent since March 13.
And the average age of newly infected people has fallen to 30 in Orange County, where Orlando is located, according to Click Orlando.
Even in states that have been more timid to step into reopening, like New York and New Jersey, infections are on the rise.
New York City has allowed restaurants to increase their capacity to 50 percent for indoor dining, opened movie theaters and allowed group indoor fitness classes to restart. New Jersey bars, too are now operating at half-capacity.
New Jersey is now seeing nearly 4,700 new Covid infections a day, up about 36 percent in the past month.
Saturday saw a particularly high spike in new cases in New York, according to Johns Hopkins’ data with 27,664 new infections.
By Sunday, the seven-day rolling average had fallen to a more modest 8,553 new cases, but that’s still 78 percent higher than the city’s March 20 low of 4,811 average cases a day.
New York’s increases are second only to Michigan, which has seen a sustained rise of 50 percent more cases over the past two weeks, according to DataUSA.io.
Michigan’s reopening has proceeded in a similar fashion to New York’s and New Jersey’s. Bars, restaurants and stadiums are allowed to operate at 50 occupancy and can now stay open until 11pm for indoor dining.
So why are states with more stringent restrictions seeing steeper case increases?
Nationwide, vaccination rates are quickly rising and eligibility is expanding. State are opening up in that context, but the relaxations may assume a higher level of vaccination than the country has actually achieved.
And people’s behavior seems to be doing similarly.
Dr. Fauci said Sunday that the country is in a ‘race’ between rapid vaccine rollout and a potential surge in new cases.
‘There are 50 million people in this country that are fully vaccinated. That’s a lot of people. And every day we get more and more,’ he said.
‘I would expect that as we get through the summer, late spring, early summer, there’s going to be a relaxation where you’re going to have more and more people who will be allowed into baseball parks, very likely separated with seating, very likely continuing to wear masks,’ Fauci continued.
People gather in Domino Park with a view of the Manhattan skyline in the background on Friday in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
NEW YORK: About 54,600 people in New York tested positive for the virus in the last week, a number that has begun to inch up recently. Trends for new cases in New York are shown above in a chart from Johns Hopkins University
NEW JERSEY: Even as the vaccination campaign has ramped up, the number of new infections in New Jersey has crept up by 37 percent in a little more than a month. Trends for new cases in New Jersey are shown above in a chart from Johns Hopkins University
‘As we get a really, really low level of infection, you’re going to start seeing a pulling back on some of those restrictions, I hope. And I think that’s going to happen. I think if we do it correctly and we get the vaccines out at the rate we’re doing, that will happen,’ he said.
As of yet, the U.S. has not reached that low level of infection. And different patterns are emerging in states that may have to do with their vaccination rates as well as how coronavirus has spread in their communities over the course of the past year.
‘This is not based on data but…Florida has been free and easy for some time now with regards to interactions and opening up, so maybe that subset of people who have the most contact – those who work in restaurants, bars and hotels – maybe a lot of them now have been asymptomatically or only mildly infected, so they have a degree of protection’ Dr William Shaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor of health policy, told DailyMail.com.
‘Spring breakers come from outside and they may acquire infections in FLorida but they only manifet them when they get back to New York or New Jersey or wherever.
‘The people coming down are not spreading it in Florida so much, but they may set off many outbreaks around the country,’ Dr Shaffner speculated.
Biden was asked by reporters Sunday for his take on the latest case numbers.
‘Based on what I’m hearing that apparently people are letting their guard down, but I’m having a meeting with the team tomorrow and I’ll get a better sense,’ he said.
Even as the vaccination campaign has ramped up, the number of new infections in New Jersey has crept up by 37 percent in a little more than a month, to about 23,600 every seven days.
About 54,600 people in New York tested positive for the virus in the last week, a number that has begun to inch up recently.
The two states now rank No. 1 and 2 in new infections per capita among US states. New Jersey has been reporting about 647 new cases for every 100,000 residents over the past 14 days. New York has averaged 548.
The situation in New York and New Jersey mirrors a national trend that has seen case numbers inch up in recent days. The US is averaging nearly 62,000 cases a day, up from 54,000 two weeks ago.
Neither state is experiencing anything like what they saw last spring, when hospitals – and morgues – were overflowing. And like the rest of the country, both are in a much better place than in January, at the peak of the pandemic’s winter spike.
But the lack of improvement or even backsliding in recent weeks has raised concerns that the states are opening too quickly and people are letting down their guard too much, just as potentially more contagious variants of the virus are circulating more widely.
However, Texas, which removed all pandemic restrictions earlier this month, has seen cases continued to trend down for the most part.
Texas, which removed all pandemic restrictions earlier this month, has seen cases continued to trend down for the most part, though they have risen in the past few days
Though the seven-day average of daily new cases in Texas has risen slightly in recent days, it remains at a level comparable with early October, before the fall surge.
Other states including Maryland, Connecticut and Mississippi have eased Covid-related restrictions, lifting mask mandates or allowing restaurants, retailers and others to reopen with fewer or no restrictions.
Fauci also warned that travel over the coming Easter holiday could fuel a new surge, as occurred after the year-end holidays.
‘Even if on the planes people are wearing masks, when you get to the airport, the check-in lines, the food lines for restaurants, the boarding… invariably increase the risk of getting infected,’ he said.