The director of the nation’s top public health agency said Monday that the drops in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths could be erased in the near future due to new variants of the virus that causes the disease.
The number of daily new cases has dropped sharply in recent weeks but there’s evidence the declines are stalling around 70,000 cases a day, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky.
“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19. I understand the temptation to do this. Seventy thousand cases a day seemed good compared to where we were just a few months ago. But we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths,” she said during a virtual briefing.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, has left hundreds of thousands dead in the United States since emerging around the start of 2020, and hospitalized many others.
The disease primarily affects the elderly and the infirm but can also cause severe illness in others.
Viruses change through mutation and new variants are expected to emerge over time; some emerge and disappear while others linger, persisting, according to the CDC. Major variants include B.1.1.7 from the UK, B.1.351 from South Africa, and P.1 from Brazil. All three have been detected in the United States.
States like Massachusetts, Missouri, and Iowa have recently eased restrictions, such as rules on wearing masks and capacity limitations for certain businesses.
Walensky is among the officials who have urged Americans to continue wearing masks, social distancing, and taking other precautionary measures even if they’ve received COVID-19 vaccines, as they warn the pandemic is not over.
“We have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country. Please stay strong in your conviction. Continue wearing your well-fitted mask and taking the other public health prevention actions that we know work,” she said.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, the CDC will roll out updated guidance soon for people who have been vaccinated, in terms of what they should and should not do after getting two doses of vaccines from Moderna or Pfizer, or one dose from Johnson & Johnson.
Fauci told reporters in the briefing that officials are taking the New York variant B.1.526 “very seriously.”
That variant has the “ability to evade both monoclonal antibody and, to a certain extent, the vaccine-induced antibodies cases in this country,” he added.
Nearly 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed to states as of March 1, with nearly 77 million administered to roughly 50.7 million people. The daily average of doses administered stands at 1.7 million.
Drug regulators recently authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose shot. Officials expect to deliver doses of that vaccine as early as Tuesday, with a projection of 20 million doses being distributed by the end of the month.