As Corona Rate Spikes, President Biden, CDC Director Caution Nation

Scientists tracking the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. have said that there’s plenty to be worried about. Cases are rising across the country, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Public health experts are worried that the country is headed for a fourth major spike.

It’s the last news anyone wants to hear: one year after the United States was slammed with its first wave of COVID-19—which was followed by even worse second and third waves—public health experts are worried that the country is headed for a fourth major spike. Scientists tracking the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. have said that there’s plenty to be worried about. Cases are rising across the country, especially in the Northeast and Midwest.

President Joe Biden has made a plea to the nation’s governors as the US faces the possibility of another wave of Covid-19 infections. “I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please. This is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down,” Biden said during remarks on the state of vaccinations this week.

The plea comes as some states have lifted requirements for face coverings, as well as guidance on restaurant capacity and other measures, and cases have again begun to rise. Last week, the administration called on states to slow the relaxation of Covid guidelines.

Much of America’s recent progress against Covid-19 has been erased as new infections jump nationwide.  Now the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she’s afraid of what will happen next. “What we’ve seen over the last week or so is a steady rise of cases,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Monday. “I know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again.”

The U.S. is facing “impending doom” as daily Covid-19 cases begin to rebound once again, threatening to send more people to the hospital even as vaccinations accelerate nationwide, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The troubling B.1.1.7 variant strain is spreading more rapidly in the US. That strain isn’t just more contagious, health experts say. It appears to be deadlier as well.

During a White House coronavirus briefing yesterday, Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, begged Americans to keep following public health guidelines amid alarming upticks in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. “Right now, I’m scared,” she said.

And the combination of young, carefree revelers and states ditching safety mandates has helped send the country backward, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen now,” Fauci told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Biden also renewed calls for Americans to wear masks, framing the choice as a “patriotic duty.” “I need the American people do their part as well. Mask up, mask up. It’s a patriotic duty. It’s the only way we ever get back to normal,” he said. With a nod to the role of the private sector, Biden also suggested businesses should also require the use of masks. “The failure to take this virus seriously precisely what got us to this mess in the first place, risk more cases, more deaths,” he said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she would be conveying Biden’s message to governors on Tuesday after she warned of “impending doom” over concerns about another wave of Covid-19 cases.

“With regard to the surging, we are working closely with the states. I will be speaking with the governors tomorrow to try and reinforce the need for current restrictions to not open up,” Walensky said earlier Monday. “I think what we’ll do on masking will really depend on where we are 30 days from now.”

It’s not the federal government, but “the private sector” that will likely create and store data for Covid-19 vaccine passports, Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said on Monday.

Vaccine passports are a way for people to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19. “The government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens. We view this as something that the private sector is doing, and will do,” Slavitt said during a virtual White House briefing.

Instead, the Biden administration is working to develop a set of standards for such a vaccine passport program or database. “What’s important to us, and we’re leading an interagency process right now to go through these details, are that some important criteria be met with these credentials. Number one, that there is equitable access — that means whether or not people have access to technology or whether they don’t. It’s also important that we recognize that there are still many, many millions and millions of Americans that have not yet been vaccinated. So that’s a fundamental equity issue,” he said.

“Privacy of the information, security of the information, and a marketplace of solutions are all things that are part of what we believe in, as is the ability for people to access this free, and in multiple languages,” Slavitt said. “So, I think you will see more from us as we complete our interagency process. But this not slowing down the process in any way.”

He went on to describe why the government will be involved in the process.  “The core here is that Americans, like people around the world who are vaccinated, will want to be able to demonstrate that vaccination in various forms,” Slavitt said. “This is going to hit all parts of society, so naturally the government is involved.”

The great news is all three vaccines being distributed in the US appear to work well against the B.1.1.7 strain. But with only 15.8% of the US population fully vaccinated — and anti-vaxxers and vaccine hesitancy preventing America from returning to normal faster — it’s time for a reality check.  “Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen,” Walensky said.

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom … 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.”

Before she became CDC director, Walensky was on the front lines of the pandemic, witnessing some patients die from Covid-19.  “I know what it’s like as a physician to stand in that patient room — gowned, gloved, masked, shielded — and to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one, because they are not able to be there,” she said.  The US has come “such a long way,” Walensky said, pleading with all Americans to keep masking up and “hold on a little while longer” as more people get vaccinated.  Young people are fueling much of this new surge

At least 27 states have averaged at least 10% more cases each day this past week compared to the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins University.  “A lot of the spread is happening among younger people,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “That’s the group that is moving around, kind of relaxing, getting infected.”

And some state governors and local officials recently relaxed safety mandates, despite warnings from health experts to keep them in place a bit longer.  “We’re weeks away from a point where we can begin to do these things a bit more safely,” Jha said. “But I think states have just moved too fast.”

The U.S. is recording a weekly average of 63,239 new Covid-19 cases per day, a 16% increase compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Daily cases are now growing by at least 5% in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

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