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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.

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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.”

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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.

Rachel Cohrs contributed reporting.

  • @KarlPK, a little intellectual humility goes a long way toward promoting fruitful discussion. Your condescending criticism implies that the STAT authors miscalculated, or at least misreported someone else’s miscalculation as 40k to 60k and 50k to 70k as a 10% increase. In fact, you misread and misreported. The 10% increase was between two recent seven day periods, while the 40k to 60k and 50k to 70k increases were between now and January. Both statistics are correct. The ad-hoc comparison between Florida and California is also ill-advised. (See https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-03-09/florida-vs-california-who-had-better-covid-response%3f_amp=true). That said, I will grant you that good reporting should avoid biased/loaded phrases like “tossed aside”. Further, while there is nothing wrong with citing specific experts, citing “experts” without identifying them is problematic. I recognize that this not intended to be a comprehensive report, but providing at least one specific example of those experts would improve credibility.

    • James, do the authors actually explain the end time point of the daily cases? How do you know that? You’re guessing, because they didn’t explain it.

      And I didn’t even address the slippery issue of “cases.” Those numbers are always suspect, given the PCR methodologies.

      But most important, all the other numerical items they breathlessly present have no context by which to judge their meaning. Seven day percentages here, monthly percentages there. They are simply asserted as authoritative evidence of… well…something, and it’s bad bad bad.

      I bet part of the reason they do this is because they have access to someone like Walensky, and thus can easily slip into presenting an argumentum ab auctoritate.

      Like you, I don’t expect these pieces to be comprehensive reports, and I don’t expect journalists to have PhDs in statistics. But they are sloppy.

    • Karl : (quote) : “And on top of that, printing enormous sums of money that will saddle future generations with debt they will never be able to repay. If that turns out to be true the we will rue the day we have done what we have done.” Start rue-ing, because it has already been done. Never taxing the rich to the same degree as their secretaries does that. The mammoth tankers full of moneys could have made the pandemic not such an un-fair ordeal for so many – as safey, food, rents, health care, medical coverage, vaccines, etc. could have been provided – for EVERYONE. The inequality in the US boat will eventually capsize it.

  • Let’s deconstruct this piece because once again it demonstrates the sloppy thinking and writing that characterizes STAT’s unique form of journalism.

    First, we have those dastardly percentages and that very difficult discipline that journalists of all stripes struggle with: arithmetic. Cases have “increased by 10.6%” over a seven day period. OK, what’s the numerator and what’s the denominator? Meanwhile assuming we can find the numerator and denominator, is 10.6% significant, or just a random fluctuation? And which 7-day period? And are these increases, assuming significant, geographically dispersed on concentrated?

    Crickets.

    Further on down, Walensky is sourced as saying cases were 40K to 50K a day, and are now 60K to 70K a day. Last I looked, 40K to 60K is a 50% increase, and 50K to 70K is a 40% increase. All those numbers must be making our authors dizzy.

    Then we have the hospitalizations and deaths and, once again, no numerators or denominators, and no assessment of whether these increases are significant or just random fluctuations.

    And then we have that all-too-familiar trope of “experts say.” Ooooh!! Experts!!

    On top of that, we have those dastardly governors and mayors “tossing aside restrictions have been shown to reduce transmission of the coronavirus.” You mean the sort of restrictions that the governor of California imposed? How has that state done? And the sort of restrictions that the governor of Florida has “tossed aside?” How has that state done?

    And the statement that restrictions “have been shown to reduce transmission” is arguable, to say the least.

    I don’t doubt Walensky’s apprehension, likely sincere. After all, it’s a “feeling” and who can doubt feelings?

    But being fearful is a job requirement for public health officials, and understanding the tradeoffs, sometimes painful, of risk management choices, is very very hard for them. They would rather be wrong, terribly wrong, from their perch of fear than to be honest about their ignorance.

    • What is your point Karl?

      Are you questioning the figures reported as factual (ex; cases rising) or something that you imply which is restrictions don’t stop the virus?

      Q: Social distancing helps prevent COVID spread. True or false?
      Q: Mask-wearing helps prevent COVID spread. True or false?
      Q: Restrictions help prevent COVID spread. True or false?

      Restrictions aren’t a guarantee, but certainly, better than nothing at all in slowing down COVID spread. So I fail to understand your point, hence the question.

    • What….

      My point is not that the figures are wrong, it’s that they are useless unless the authors provide sufficient context.

      As for your questions, the problem is much more complex and the simple superficial binary choices you offer only obscure these complexities. For example, restrictions — nice vague word that — may help prevent the spread, but restricting school attendance for young children in the name of “prevention” may have far-reaching and tragic consequences, especially for poorer children.

      Hard to know at this point how many deaths we will experience — to use the CDCs interesting phrase — “from Covid” or “with Covid AND additional causes” — but let’s say it winds up at around 750,000. We have 330 million people in this country. While it is sad that we lose that many people, that number will be less than 1/3rd of 1% of the population.

      But by the draconian restrictions we have established, we may have obliterated untold numbers of small businesses, and ruined the economic and social lives of 30 million people, close to 10% of the population, most of whom are poor and disadvantaged. And on top of that, printing enormous sums of money that will saddle future generations with debt they will never be able to repay.

      If that turns out to be true the we will rue the day we have done what we have done.

  • the Federal government and the CDC is paid for with citizen’s tax dollars in the TRILLIONS every year to protect them not to fear monger them nor allow open borders to have thousand of illegals to poor into the country ; we the people pay for their salary , benefits and plush retirement plans too

  • If the CDC is so scared about this next wave, why would they do something like change the classroom social distances to 3 feet apart? Wouldn’t that increase likelihood of spread in a small space, thus fueling this next wave??

  • Very confusing. Are we vaccinated to no avail? No immunization to variants? Nobody working on a booster shot? Has Europe proven that vaccines are ineffective?

    Why don’t Walensky and Fauci advocate booster research instead of crying wolf to quarantine denizens again and again, deja vu again.

  • Can we please try to keep politics out of this site? There are so many other outlets for that.

    • Keep politics? Out of STAT? The policy leanings of this site, and the journalists who write for it, are highly political, much as they try to disguise or soft pedal it.

      Moreover, public health decisions by Federal agencies and Federal employees, like Walensky and Fauci and others, are driving economic and social decisions that invariably move into the realm of the political. These actors may claim some sort of scientific disinterest, but make no mistake, they are political actors. “Public Service,” “Public Health.” The connection is obvious.

      What’s really ironic is that while Fauci, Birx, Walensky and others — while cloaking themselves in the guise of the objective “scientist” — are actually guessers. The were guessing last March,: they’re guessing now. They never say “this is my best guess.” That at least would be honest–and, of course, dishonesty is part and parcel of the political.

      And every statement is couched in the conditional mood: “could”, “might,” “may.” They are not scientists putting forth falsifiable testable hypotheses. They are pontificators.

      And pontificators and politics often go hand in hand.

  • I am starting to get really worried our public health officials are not being candid with us.
    About half of US population now is probably immune to the variant which caused the first wave here – the reported case numbers were way too low, really 3 times as many people got sick as the positive PCR test toll, since about 1/3 of us test positive for antibodies. Additionally, we have given some vaccine, at least one dose, to about 1/3 of us. Obviously there is some overlap, but still about 1/2 of us have immunity.
    Reports are, both vaccines and previous infection give immunity to B1117, and at least 2M doses are going out every weekday. Granted, mostly for two dose vaccines but we know it will be very effective with only one dose.

    And despite all that, not only are case numbers up, but both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky are scared. I suspect the variants are re-infecting a lot of people who got the first type, and the vaccines are not stopping all of them, and for some reason, they are not willing to tell us that.

    • I haven’t seen anyone claim that the vaccines prevent infection by the variants, not to the degree that they prevent serious disease/death from the original strain.

      It’s been clear for a while that immunity conferred by the virus itself does not protect people from reinfection by a variant. Check out the situation in Manaus. But the vaccines seem reasonably effective at managing the variants, where “reasonable” is nowhere near 100%

    • Dr. J – I believe you are right, no one has said, definitely, the vaccines do not work – they HAVE said they are ten times less reactive in test tube experiments.
      But I INFER, though I can not be certain, that variants which escape natural immunity – remember, natural immunity is supposed to result in antibodies to multiple regions of the virus, potentially any part exposed enough for the antibodies to reach it – will also escape vaccine induced immunity.
      I can not find any reason vaccine induced immunity would be any better than natural immunity, from past infection, at stopping a new variant which does not “look” the same to the immune system. It is very counter-intuitive.
      And, as said, I can not believe the CDC folks are this freaked out about the variants which are stopped by vaccine and immunity to the first wave virus. IF that was their only worry, seems to me they would be on TV constantly telling us “We will get everyone vaccinated in two more months, I know it’s been a long time, but hold it together for two more months” – but instead, we have President Biden saying 3 months, IF the variants do not screw it up.

  • Do we know, of these numbers, “Hospitalizations and deaths, which are a lagging metric, also rose over the last seven-day period, by 4.2% and 2.6%, respectively”, what percent of these people already had full immunity from vaccination ?

  • The near-constant dire warnings from government officials have undermined efficacy- ‘see Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf syndrome. Related: 1) TX was ‘Neanderthal’ for reducing state mandates with “dire warnings” a month ago. No surge. 2) The impact of lockdowns on business, families, vulnerable and life are NEVER quantified or adequately noted. Economists are best not pretending to be doctors. The reverse is true. Both need to be heard by intelligent leaders who make tough calls re: tradeoffs. We are long on tradeoffs and short on leaders.

    • Yep. That about sums it up, Edward.

      What all this is over — assuming we can EVER get to a place where it’s “over” — I bet we will discover that the public heath crisis of this pandemic is not because of the virus, but because of our response to it.

  • All Liberals live in fear of impending doom. She is an embarrassment. But hey, at least Biden has a diverse administration.

    • I do not like Biden trying to fill out his dance card with someone from every identifiable group, but about half the new doctors are women and Dr. Walensky is not alone in being worried, Dr. Fauci finally said, after Senator Rand Paul sort of browbeat him into it, he is worried about the variants not being stopped by our vaccines. We need to keep some perspective – around half the deaths from the first wave were people over 80, and 85% were people over 60 – but if the vaccines do not work, and the antibody treatments do not work, (reported already) then we may have another wave worse than the first – worse because the variants may be more contagious and lethal – like Mexico and Brazil are having right now, reportedly.

    • It seems that Liberals do have a healthy fear of a virus that became a pandemic in a very short period of time and has killed 3 million globally. Conservatives have fear as well but they don’t like to admit it. Their fear is about people who are “different”.

    • GK, ever of this guy, Richard Feynman? Pretty famous scientist, won a Nobel Prize, played the bongos. You know what he said about science?

      “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

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