CDC Director Issues Stark Warning of Impending 4th Wave of Covid-19

‘Right now I’m scared’

Photo: Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images

In the race between Covid-19 vaccines and variants, in some parts of the country, the variants appear to be winning. In a stark message issued at the White House press briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, warned that the U.S. was on the verge of a fourth wave of the pandemic, driven by more transmissible variants of the coronavirus and states’ premature lifting of protective measures.

The seven-day average for new cases is slightly less than 60,000 per day, a 10% increase from the previous week. Hospitalizations are also increasing, up 4.2% in the past week. Deaths, which typically lag behind the other two metrics, have recently started to rise as well, currently averaging 1,000 per day. On Tuesday, the U.S. death count surpassed 550,000.

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.

Going off script, an emotional Walensky said, “When I first started at CDC about two months ago, I made a promise to you: I would tell you the truth, even if it was not the news we wanted to hear. Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth and I have to hope and trust you all listen. I’m going to pause here. I’m going to lose the script. And 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.”

Walensky pleaded with the public to remain vigilant about masking, social distancing, and other prevention strategies to stop the spread of the virus. She said, “I’m speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director — not only as your CDC director — but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there but not quite yet. And so I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.”

Ending on a positive note, Walensky shared the results of a new study published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on the real-world effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at preventing infections. Risk of infection, including asymptomatic cases, was reduced by 90% after two vaccine doses and 80% two weeks after just a single dose. The CDC researchers learned this by testing nearly 4,000 vaccinated frontline essential workers every week using nasal swabs.

There has been a surge in vaccinations in recent weeks, up to nearly 3 million a day, with 36% of adults in the U.S. having received their first shot. On Monday, the Biden administration also announced plans to speed up vaccine rollout across the country, with the goal of administering 200 million shots by April 30.

Health and science writer • PhD in 🧠 • Words in Scientific American, STAT, The Atlantic, The Guardian • Award-winning Covid-19 coverage for Elemental

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