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As Covid-19 numbers rise, the CDC chief says she’s scared about where US is headed. But it’s not too late to change country’s course

New Covid-19 cases have spiked in the US in the last several days, the latest data showed Tuesday — and White House and health officials are pleading with the country to take more precautions until more people can be vaccinated.

The country has averaged 65,700 new cases a day over the last week — a 22% jump from the week prior, when the number was near 2021’s lowest point, Johns Hopkins University data show.

Numbers like this moved Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky to say Monday she was “scared” and felt “impending doom” about where the US is heading.

Simply put, although vaccination rates are rising and eligibility is expanding, more-contagious variants like B.1.1.7 are spreading, and a lot of people still are vulnerable.

“Vaccines don’t work until they hit people’s arms — and we just don’t have enough vaccinations in people’s arms yet to be able to achieve the kind of herd immunity that we need,” epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former health commissioner for Detroit, said Tuesday.

Walensky on Monday night expanded on the “impending doom” warning she’d given hours earlier: She treated Covid-19 patients before she became CDC director, and she doesn’t want another wave when “we’re reaching towards getting so many more people vaccinated,” she told MSNBC’s Rachel

“I just can’t face another surge when there’s so much optimism right at our fingertips,” she told MSNBC.

The B.1.1.7 variant accounts for about 26% of all circulating virus around the US, and it is dominating in some regions, Walensky said.

“That is concerning,” she said. “So far, it appears that the B.1.1.7 is neutralized by our current vaccines, but … if you have enough virus circulating, those variants can mutate even more and lead to sort of more troublesome variants in the future, which is why we just really want to stop the circulation of virus.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations and daily deaths, the trajectories of which usually mimic cases weeks later, also are inching up after weeks of declines.

More than 38,800 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Saturday — well below a pandemic peak of more than 136,000 on January 5, but creeping above this year’s low mark of 37,913 on March 21, the latest data from the Department of Health and Human Services show.

The country has averaged about 989 Covid-19 deaths over the last week — far below the pandemic peak of 3,427, but above the year’s lowest average of 934 set on March 23.

More than 550,000 people in the US have died of Covid-19, a death toll far higher than any other country’s.

US ‘can change this trajectory,’ CDC director says

The CDC director’s warnings have been echoed by experts across the country for weeks. But at least a dozen governors, citing lowered Covid-19 numbers and ongoing vaccinations, eased Covid-19 restrictions this month, against health officials’ guidance.

Meanwhile, spring break crowds packed popular beach destinations and air travel surged, all while the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the UK spread.

Most recently, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said restrictions limiting capacity in some Louisiana businesses, including bars, restaurants, salons, and gyms, will be lifted Wednesday. The governor is leaving the state’s mask mandate in place.

Delaware Gov. John Carney recently announced he was increasing outdoor gathering limits and easing capacity restrictions in outdoor venues starting Thursday.

“We know that gathering outdoors poses a lower risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission,” Carney said in a statement. “That’s why we’re comfortable easing certain outdoor restrictions as we head into spring.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will move ahead with her plan to end the state’s mask mandate April 9, her spokesperson told CNN.

“We have made progress, and we are moving towards personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” spokesperson Gina Maiola said.

Other state leaders, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, have also done away with mask mandates.

All these moves come as the pandemic’s trajectory in the US looks similar to what some European countries looked like just weeks ago, Walensky said Monday.

New lockdowns have now been imposed across that continent as countries like France, Italy and Germany battle another devastating spike in infections. This week, doctors in Paris warned their ICUs will likely be overwhelmed by that surge within the next 14 days and hospitals will be forced to choose “which patients get access to the ICUs and which do not in order to save as many lives as possible.”

But the US “can change this trajectory,” Walensky said.

What that will take, while vaccination numbers climb, will be doubling on safety measures that have proved to work: face masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and regularly washing hands, she said.

On Monday, President Joe Biden made a plea to leaders across the country to put mask mandates back in place.

“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please,” he said. “This is not politics.”

Everyone 16 and older in US is eligible — or will be soon — for vaccine

With an announcement from Arkansas on Tuesday, all states now have declared when they plan to open up coronavirus vaccinations to everyone eligible under the US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorizations — if they haven’t done so already.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters the state will open eligibility to those 16 and older starting now. A dozen other states already have expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility while others have said they will by May 1.

Wisconsin officials had been targeting May 1, but Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday that criteria will be changed to add people 16 and older beginning next Monday.

“The best news is that our (vaccine) supply continues to be steady,” Evers said.

More than 1 million Wisconsin residents have been fully vaccinated, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday.

“It’s important to remember that there’s more than hope and spring weather in the air. This pandemic is not over,” Evers warned. “Last week we saw a rise in our seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases for the first time in three weeks, and just in the last five days, more than 2,000 Wisconsinites have tested positive for Covid-19.”

Delaware also announced it was moving up its date to April 6 from May 1.

In Vermont, residents 16 and older who identify as Black, indigenous, or as people of color will be eligible for vaccine registration beginning Thursday, Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday.

About half of seniors in US are fully vaccinated, CDC reports

The United States put an average of 2.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses into arms every day over the past week as of Tuesday — the highest average yet, according to CDC data.

Just under half of the 65 and older population — 49.8% — is fully vaccinated, and more than seven out of 10 seniors in the US have received at least one dose.

So far, about 28.9% of the entire US population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and about 16.1% is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

The US is inoculating people at a record pace

The United States put an average of 2.75 million Covid-19 vaccine doses into arms every day over the last week as of Monday — the highest average yet, according to CDC data.

So far, about 28.6% of the US population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and about 15.8% is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

All three vaccines that are being distributed in the country appear to work well against the B.1.1.7 variant.

And under real world conditions, the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines provide highly effective protection, a new CDC report says.

At full vaccination, the vaccines were 90% effective at preventing infections — including infections that had no symptoms. And at least 14 days after the first dose but before the second dose, they were 80% protective, according to the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published on Monday.

The results showing the level of protection from a single dose after two weeks are similar to findings from other recent studies in the UK and Israel.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Monday that it is still unknown whether the protection from one dose is long-lasting or strong enough to substitute for the two-dose schedule.

“We don’t know how long that 80% is durable,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. “It may drop off a cliff in two weeks or three weeks.”

Article Topic Follows: Health

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