The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with Americans in a briefing Monday to hold on “a little while longer,” saying she feels a sense of “impending doom” due to rising case numbers, increased travel and states opening up too quickly.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky held back tears as she spoke to reporters, highlighting the fact that case numbers were no longer stagnant but instead increasing. The U.S. is now reporting about 60,000 new cases per day, a 10% increase from the previous week, Walensky said.
“I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” Dr. Walensky said, becoming 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,” she added.
Walensky and other top public health officials have been warning for weeks that the country was at a critical point in the pandemic. As of early March, cases had stopped declining and instead leveled off, and experts warned that hospitalizations and deaths could soon follow suit.
“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 said, recounting her time as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, before she was appointed to the CDC.
“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 pleaded.
Members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team urged Americans to double down on public health measures: masking, distancing and limiting travel. They also repeated their reminders to get vaccinated as soon as possible, another measure that will slow cases and deaths.
Earlier Monday, the CDC published a study that found the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are up to 90% effective in the real world and that one dose of either vaccine is up to 80% effective.
“It will be a race between the vaccine and what's going on with the dynamics of the outbreak,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser. “And we can win this by just hanging in there a bit longer.”
Health officials cited an uptick in travel and states’ loosening of restrictions as two reasons to worry amid rising cases.
For now, the CDC recommends that even vaccinated people avoid travel, and they say that anyone who does travel should get tested before and after, plus quarantine for at least a week.
“What we've seen over the last week or so is a steady rise in cases, we're now in the 60 to 70,000 range,” Dr. Walensky said. “I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again.”