Saturday, April 1, 2023

US COVID-19 Numbers Are Way Too High To Relax Just Yet, CDC Director Warns

More than 29 million cases have been reported in the US since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic one year ago.

The virus plunged America into grief and crisis. Several rounds of steep surges in infections prompted local and state leaders from coast to coast to order safety restrictions — in some cases, curfews — hoping to curb the deadly spread. Waves of COVID-19 patients crippled health care systems. Spikes in deaths drove some communities to call in mobile units to support their morgues.

“After a year of this fight, we are tired, we are lonely, we are impatient,” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement Thursday. “There have been too many missed family gatherings, too many lost milestones and opportunities, too many sacrifices”.

The US has lost more than 529,000 people to the virus, Johns Hopkins University data shows. It’s more than the number of Americans killed in World War I and World War II combined. And the death toll is rising by the thousands each week.

“These are grandparents, parents, and children,” Walensky said. “They are siblings, friends, and neighbors. They are our loved ones and our community. We join together to grieve these losses and intensify our efforts so they were not in vain”.

One year into the crisis, Walensky said, “we now clearly see what we should have addressed before — the long-standing inequities that prevent us from achieving optimal health for all. We see the impact of years of neglect of our public health infrastructure. We see the critical need for data that move faster than the disease, to prevent rather than react”.

On this day last year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a congressional hearing that “things are going to get much worse before they get better”.

“But I did not in my mind think that much worse was going to be 525,000 deaths,” he said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show.

Now, the country is at a pivotal point.

Case numbers, after plateauing at high levels, maybe beginning to decline again, Walensky said during a White House briefing on Wednesday. Average hospital admissions and COVID-19 deaths were also down over the past week, she added.

“While these trends are starting to head in the right direction, the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths still remain too high and are somber reminders that we must remain vigilant as we work to scale up our vaccination efforts across this country,” Walensky said.

So far, almost one in 10 Americans have been fully vaccinated — a number that is still too low to suppress the spread of the virus. And some experts have warned another possible surge could be weeks away, fueled by a highly contagious variant spreading across the country.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the US is at a “perfect-storm moment”. The B.1.1.7 variant — first reported in the United Kingdom — has “transmission unlike I’ve seen any at all since this pandemic began” in some areas, particularly in Florida, Texas and Georgia.

“And, remember, this is coming at us at the very same time we’re opening up America as if there is nothing else happening,” Osterholm said on CNN’s “New Day”.

He added, “I think the dynamics of the virus right now, I’m afraid, are going to beat us at the vaccination game.”

What will help now, while the country works to boost its vaccination numbers, are the precautions that have been touted by officials for months: face masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, washing hands.

And it’s especially crucial, according to experts, that Americans heed this guidance, even as more governors announce it’s time to begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions and paving the way for a return to normal. Experts have highlighted we’re not there just yet.

“We must continue to use proven prevention measures to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Walensky added. “They are getting us closer to the end of this pandemic”.