CDC Director Raises Alarm as Cases Rise Again, Variants Spread

States should maintain Covid-19 restrictions such as mask wearing and capacity limitations as case numbers halt their decline, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, citing the circulation of new variants and infection rates that remain alarmingly high.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky issued a sobering warning during a press briefing Friday, where she said the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the U.K., now accounts for an estimated 10% of current U.S. cases, and that variants in California and New York also appear to spread more easily.

“Things are tenuous -- now is not the time to relax restrictions,” Walensky said. “The latest data suggest that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number. We at the CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory.”

Cases have been falling since mid-January, but have leveled off over the past week at roughly 70,000 new cases a day -- equivalent to the number of cases seen at last summer’s peak. Hospitalizations are also falling though appear to be slowing their decline. Deaths have reversed a decline in recent days.

“We may be done with the virus but clearly the virus is not done with us,” Walensky said.

Fauci’s Warning

Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed the warning, saying people shouldn’t be lulled into a sense of complacency with case counts still remaining so high.

“We really have to be careful and take a look at that curve,” he said. “If we plateau at 70,000, we are at that very precarious position that we were right before the fall surge, where anything that could perturb that could give us another surge.”

The U.S. has administered nearly 70 million doses of vaccine, and supply is expected to continue to increase next month -- even more so if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receives emergency use authorization, which could happen in coming days.

“We think it is a mistake to take our foot off the gas too early -- especially when we’re accelerating our vaccination efforts right now,” said Andy Slavitt, a White House aide working on the pandemic response.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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