CDC head pleads with Americans as COVID-19 cases rise

Young man getting COVID vaccine
Young man getting COVID vaccine

US Navy, Yeltsin E. Rodriguez / Flickr cc

"I'm going to lose the script, and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, today during the White House COVID-19 press briefing.

"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."

Growing visibly emotional, Walensky explained that after weeks of going down or remaining stable, COVID-19 cases across the country have jumped again, as has happened at least twice in the past year before the nation experienced a major surge in virus activity.

"I'm speaking 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," Walensky said.

Deaths on the rise, too, as states open

"I know what it's like to see a hospital with a mobile morgue," Walensky said, explaining the United States is seeing an increase not only in daily case counts, but also in deaths.

According to the Washington Post, new COVID-19 cases rose 8.8% in the past week, and new daily reported deaths rose by 10.5%. In total, the United States has 30,267,561 confirmed cases, and 549,364 deaths.

The United States reported 43,694 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 506 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. As of March 26, there were 32,573 Americans hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Walensky explained that these jumps were likely fueled by states relaxing restrictions and abandoning mask mandates too soon, and by the heightened transmissibility of variants—including B117, the variant first identified in the United Kingdom—which now account for 26% of all COVID-19 cases sequenced in the United States.

Vaccinating 2.7 million a day

But both Walensky and Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said that another surge was not inevitable.

"We can win this by hanging in there a bit longer," said Fauci.

Over the weekend the country vaccinated more than 3 million adults per day, for a 7-day average of 2.7 million vaccines administered a day.

Now, 72% of Americans ages 65 and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnsons one-dose vaccine are expected to be delivered to states this week.

This afternoon, President Joe Biden announced that within 3 weeks, by Apr 19, 90% of American adults will be eligible for vaccination, and will have a vaccination site within 5 miles of their home.

Biden also announced a major expansion of the federal pharmacy program, which uses commercial pharmacies as vaccination sites. Currently the program has 17,000 locations, which will grow to 40,000 in the coming weeks.

"Now's not the time to let down. Now's not the times to celebrate," Biden said. "We have a patriotic obligation: wash your hands, stay socially distanced, wear a mask as recommended by the CDC, and get vaccinated."

Protection after 1 vaccine dose

In other positive vaccine news, a study published today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows just one dose of mRNA vaccine was effective in preventing COVID-19 in health workers.

The study looked at 4,000 inoculated healthcare workers and first responders from Dec 14 through Mar 13. Both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines were 80% effective in preventing disease after one dose, and 90% effective 2 weeks after the second dose was administered.

Study participants self-collected nasal swabs each week for testing, regardless of whether they had developed symptoms of illness. Only 10% of cases confirmed in the study were asymptomatic, offering evidence the vaccine protects against asymptomatic transmission, which has been a major question for the vaccines.

"The authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provided early, substantial real-world protection against infection for our nation's health care personnel, first responders, and other frontline essential workers," Walensky said in a press statement.

"These findings should offer hope to the millions of Americans receiving COVID-19 vaccines each day and to those who will have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated in the weeks ahead. The authorized vaccines are the key tool that will help bring an end to this devastating pandemic."

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