Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that the nation was at “a fork in the road” in determining the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and warned of “another avoidable surge” of COVID-19 cases as states loosen pandemic-related restrictions.
“The apparent leveling off of cases and hospital admissions after the consistent declines we saw in these outcomes in early January through the end of February, I consider to be very concerning,” Walensky said at a White House press briefing.
While COVID-19 deaths are in decline nationally, “they remain at elevated levels,” she said.
Walensky also expressed concern that regions including the “Northeast and the Upper Midwest are beginning to again see a significant rise in cases.”
Those factors “should serve as a warning sign for the American people,” said Walensky, adding that some states’ loosening of restrictions amid the spread of coronavirus variants and a still-high level of cases “is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation.”
“We must act now,” she said. “I am worried that if we don’t take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge, just as we are seeing in Europe right now and just as we are so aggressively scaling up vaccination.”
She urged Americans “to recommit to doing the right thing” to stop the spread of the virus through proven measures including masking, social distancing, and crowd avoidance.
As Walensky noted, the vaccination rollout is already under way. According to the CDC, nearly 83 million Americans have received at least one dose. Nearly 45 million Americans—about 13.5% of the total population—have been fully vaccinated.
And yet, as CNBC reported Saturday, coronavirus cases are rising in 21 states including Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey.
Focusing on Michigan, ABC News reported Sunday:
The Great Lake State currently has the country’s fourth-highest average of new COVID-19 cases per capita, with New Jersey leading the country. For the past three weeks, the daily case average has doubled. In the last week alone, the state’s average has increased by 53%.
The seven-day average is now over 2,500 new cases a day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on Wednesday, Michigan reported a total of 3,164 new cases, its highest single-day case total since early January.
Those figures should be cautionary for residents of other states as well. From STAT News on Saturday:
“What happens in Texas affects the rest of the nation,” said epidemiologist Camara Phyllis Jones of Morehouse School of Medicine, citing one state that has ended its mask mandate and rolled back other restrictions. “We cannot wall ourselves off.”
Speaking on the Today show on Monday, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, made an appeal similar to Walensky’s.
“This is our best ticket towards vaccinating the world.”@ashishkjha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, joins us to discuss a U.S. trial showing the AstraZeneca vaccine to be 79 percent effective, pandemic fatigue, spring break crowds in Miami Beach and more. pic.twitter.com/saT4fm3jiI— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 22, 2021
“We’re basically at the 10 yard line,” said Jha, “and we should be able to run this into the end zone,” referring to “when all high-risk people have been vaccinated.”
He warned that “we’re loosening [coronavirus-related restrictions] a little too early, and the cost of this is that a lot of people are going to get infected and sick when we can avoid that by just holding on a little bit longer.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, over 542,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.
This story was originally published on Common Dreams.