Washington — Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), issued a dire warning of a sense of "impending doom" as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations tick up and pleaded with Americans to not let up on mitigation measures.
During a briefing from the White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials, Walensky said there are "continuing concerning trends" in the nation's response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths all rising. The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. has surpassed 30.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"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," Walensky said, appearing to grow emotional. "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 said the trajectory of the pandemic in the United States is following European countries like Germany, Italy and France, which have experienced a "consistent and worrying spike in cases."
"We are not powerless. We can change this trajectory of the pandemic," she said. "But it will take all of us recommitting to following the public health prevention strategies consistently while we work to get the American public vaccinated."
The American people, Walensky continued, need to work together to prevent another surge in cases.
"I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director, and 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," she said. "I so badly want to be done, I know you all so badly want to be done, we're 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."
Walensky's sense of foreboding comes as some governors have moved to relax restrictions designed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, including lifting mask mandates, as more people are vaccinated. States like Florida have experienced an increase in spring break visitors, while the Transportation Security Administration reported a spike in the number of air travelers this month.
But public health officials have warned the nation risks a new surge in coronavirus infections, attributed to increased travel, a rolling back of restrictions and the new variants that have been detected in the U.S.
"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," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said in an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "And unfortunately, that's what we're starting to see."
Walensky said new cases were stagnating, but there has been a steady rise, now between 60,000 and 70,000 new infections per day, over the last week, which could lead to a larger spike.
The CDC director added that some states are opening up at levels not recommended by public health officials, and she plans to speak with governors Tuesday to urge them to "buckle down on trying to refrain from opening up too fast."
The Biden administration has worked to ramp up the pace of vaccinations by sending doses directly to retail pharmacies and community health centers. More than 93 million Americans have received at least one dose of their shots, and 51.5 million are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Still, Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, stressed during the briefing that people need to continue following public health measures as more shots are administered.
"It will be race between a vaccine and what's going on with the dynamics of the outbreak," he said.