‘Right now I’m scared’: CDC director warns of a coming spike in Covid-19 case counts

WASHINGTON — As Covid-19 cases begin again to spike throughout the United States, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky issued an urgent plea to Americans Monday to continue following public health measures.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared,” said Walensky, who noted she has begun experiencing a “recurring” feeling of “impending doom.”

The plea came amid news that positive Covid-19 cases have increased by 10.6% compared to the previous seven-day period. Hospitalizations and deaths, which are a lagging metric, also rose over the last seven-day period, by 4.2% and 2.6%, respectively.

Daily infections are way down in the U.S. from the January peaks, but they stagnated at about 40,000 to 50,000 cases a day, Walensky said. Now, they’re at 60,000 to 70,000.

Once cases make that initial jump, Walensky said, “things really have a tendency to surge, and surge big.”

The urgent plea about another potential surge in Covid-19 cases comes as a number of states have begun loosening Covid-19 restrictions as larger percentages of their population are vaccinated against Covid-19. More than 28% of the U.S. population has now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to CDC data. But lots of people across all demographics are still waiting for immunizations, and some states are reporting serious increases in cases and even hospitalizations among younger people.

“I so badly want to be done, I know you all so badly want to be done,” Walensky added. “We are just almost there, but not quite yet. And so I am asking you to just hold on a little bit longer, to get vaccinated when you can so that all the people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.”

Walenksy reiterated warnings from many experts that the U.S. could be following behind by a few weeks what Europe has been experiencing. Countries there have seen some of their biggest spikes of the pandemic, leading to another round of restrictions and lockdowns.

The causes for current increases are primarily twofold, experts say.

One, a more transmissible and seemingly deadlier variant of the virus, called B.1.1.7, has been gathering steam in the country and is now at the point where it can drive up transmission. The variant first emerged in the U.K. and has driven spikes in other European countries. Another variant, B.1.526, seems to be driving some spread in the Northeast of the U.S., as well as B.1.1.7.

The other is that governors and mayors have been tossing aside restrictions that have been shown to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, including mask mandates and capacity limits on businesses and activities. Travel is also up.

Those factors are helping the virus outcompete the advantages the U.S. has that could help put a damper on spread, including a large bulk of people who are protected either from an earlier infection or, increasingly, from vaccines.

President Biden also conveyed a sense of urgency on Monday as he detailed new measures to scale up the pace of vaccinations, including expanding pharmacy locations administering vaccines from 17,000 to nearly 40,000, opening a dozen new mass vaccination sites, and providing $100 million to help elderly and disabled people with transportation to vaccine appointments.

He touted the fact that by April 19, 90% of U.S. adults will be eligible for vaccination and 90% will have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live, but also cautioned that the effort has a long way to go.

“In this race against a rapidly spreading virus, as fast as we are going, we need to go faster,” Biden said in televised remarks.

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