Senior US health official ‘scared’ by Covid-19 trajectory
A senior US health official said she felt a sense of “impending doom” about the potential for a new surge in coronavirus cases across the US, even as the country rapidly ramps up vaccinations.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a briefing on Monday that she feared the trajectory of infections was again taking a wrong turn, and warned against a premature loosening of social-distancing practices.
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope,” she said. “But right now, I’m scared.”
Walensky’s remarks will dash some of the optimism about the US’s ability to rapidly bring an end to the pandemic as the pace of vaccinations accelerate and new stimulus enacted by President Joe Biden pumps more government funding into the healthcare response.
The president last week announced that he expected 200m Covid-19 jabs would be administered within his first 100 days in office — more than double his original target of 100m vaccinations.
After a record wave of coronavirus infections over the winter, hospitalisations and death rates for the US peaked around the start of the year and have broadly been in decline since. The daily rate of new cases in the US dropped sharply in February, but that improvement now appears to have stalled.
New cases have started to accelerate again with the country averaging about 60,000 new cases a day over the past week, according to CDC data. That is less than a quarter of a peak rate hit in mid-January, but it is close to levels experienced during the summer surge that hit sunbelt states such as Texas, California and Florida the hardest.
It also comes against the backdrop of a vaccine rollout that has fully vaccinated 20 per cent of adults aged 18 and older. Many states have loosened pandemic-related restrictions on businesses as cases have trended lower. Travel is also starting to pick back up again, as the weather has improved and people have ventured out on spring holidays.
The trends have raised alarm bells among top health officials.
“When you’re coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you’re really in danger of a surge coming up,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News on Sunday. “And, unfortunately, that’s what we’re starting to see.”
On top of the human toll, a new surge in coronavirus cases risks dealing a significant setback to the US economic recovery as it accelerates on the back of stimulus legislation and expectations of a vastly improved health situation.
Many economic forecasters have been sharply upgrading their predictions for US gross domestic product growth in 2021 to more than 6 per cent, forecasting a boom in consumption and a strong expansion of activity as Americans feel more comfortable resuming their normal lives.
Walensky issued her emotional warning during one of the regular briefings by US health officials of the Biden administration.
“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, adding that she needed to pause to “reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom”.
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