While cautious optimism remains for the months ahead, particularly with regards to an ever-expanding vaccine rollout, the COVID-19 era—despite what certain regions’ laxness in mitigation efforts might have some people believing—is not over.
Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci—President Biden’s chief medical advisor and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—was asked about the U.S.’ current status of plateauing at a high level of infection and the potential for continued spikes in cases. While variants do play a part, Fauci explained, the real cause for concern is the impact of hasty returns to pre-pandemic activities.
“What we likely are seeing is because of things like Spring Break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen,” Fauci said when appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday. “Now, several states have done that. I believe it’s premature … When you’re coming down from a 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. And unfortunately, that’s what we’re staring to see.”
Fauci noted the U.S. daily new infection rate has remained at around 50,000—though it recently went up to 60,000 and beyond—while advising against travel. As Fauci explained, he views the current situation as “a race” between getting people vaccinated and keeping an eye on this peak.
“Whenever we see surges in travel, be that around the holidays or around certain situations … you get a congregation of people,” he said. “Even if on the planes people are wearing masks, when you get to the airport—the check-in lines, the food lines for restaurants, the boarding—you see how people sometimes can be congregating together. Those are the kinds of things that invariably increase the risk of getting infected … The travel phenomenon in general does that.”
Recent estimates show that around 50 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, with that number expected to grow continuously throughout the rest of the year. Steering the conversation back toward cautious optimism, Fauci said achieving a good degree of flexibility at some point this summer is an “aspirational goal,” especially as we get closer to a larger number of the population being fully vaccinated.
Just last week, the Biden administration announced an investment of $10 billion into the expansion of vaccine access. And by May 1, per orders from Biden, all regions in the U.S. must make every adult vaccine-eligible.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all residents age 30 and older are eligible to get vaccinated starting Tuesday, March 30 at 8 a.m. On April 6, residents age 16 and older become eligible.
In short, there’s good reason for anticipatory excitement. Just don’t blow it in the meantime by doing shit like this.
Also on Monday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky got emotional during a pandemic briefing, explaining that she scrapped her previously planned remarks because she’s now also feeling fearful of raising COVID-19 numbers.
“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 their loved one couldn’t be there,” Walensky, who said she wanted to reflect on a “recurring feeling” she’s had of “impending doom,” told those virtually attending the briefing.
“I know what it’s like when you’re the physician or the healthcare provider and you’re worried that you don’t have the resources to take care of the patients in front of you. I know that feeling of nausea when you read the crisis standards of care and you wonder whether there are enough ventilators to go around and who’s gonna make that choice. And I know what it’s like to pull up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside.”
Elsewhere, Walensky urged the public to stay smart about mitigation efforts.
“Right now, I’m scared…I so badly want to be done…so I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer,” she said.