Although recent data suggests America's coronavirus epidemic is improving, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday urged states to not scale back public health restrictions aimed at curbing the virus's spread—because new, quickly spreading variants of the virus could make matters worse.
America's coronavirus epidemic shows signs of improvement
Data from the past two weeks indicates that America's coronavirus epidemic is improving when compared with the peak in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths the country experienced last month. However, the reported rates of each of those metrics remain high, and experts say the epidemic's recent progress is on shaky ground.
According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Monday reported about 92,739 new cases of the novel coronavirus, marking the second consecutive day that U.S. officials reported fewer than 100,000 new cases of the virus. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 27.1 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 111,210—which is down by 36% when compared with the average from two weeks ago, when the United States was in the midst of its worst peak in newly reported cases.
As of Tuesday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, South Dakota, and Vermont, which have each reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. In contrast, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Tuesday morning in Guam, Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
All other states and Washington, D.C., had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, but the daily average of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past seven days in those areas was "going down" as of Tuesday morning, according to the Times' data.
U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high as of Monday, but still were down significantly from record-highs reported last month. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 80,055 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Monday, including 16,174 who were receiving care in an ICU and 5,260 who were on a ventilator. Monday marked the fifth consecutive day that fewer than 90,000 Americans with Covid-19 were hospitalized for treatment, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Similarly, the United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus has declined over the past two weeks, though it also remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 1,547 new deaths linked to the virus on Monday. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 464,921 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.
CDC director says states shouldn't ease restrictions aimed at containing coronavirus
Despite signs of improvement in the epidemic, Walensky on Monday urged states not to ease restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus's spread, because new, more contagious variants of the virus remain a "threat" to the country and could reverse the United States' recent progress.
According to CDC data, the United States as of Monday had reported 699 cases of novel coronavirus variants across 34 U.S. states. That total includes:
- 690 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, which research suggests is more transmissible, potentially more deadly, and possibly less susceptible to vaccines than earlier variants of the virus;
- Six cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, which research suggests is more transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than earlier variants of the virus; and
- Three cases of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, which research suggests is more transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than earlier variants of the virus.
Further, a preprint study released Sunday showed that the B.1.1.7 variant of the novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading throughout the United States. In the study, researchers from CDC and Helix found the variant is 35% to 46% more transmissible than earlier and currently more common variants in the United States, and they projected that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant variant of the new coronavirus in the United States within a month. According to the researchers, new cases of B.1.1.7 are doubling in the United States every 10 days.
Walensky on Monday said, "Although hospital admissions and cases are consistently dropping, I'm asking everyone to please keep your guard up. The continued proliferation of variants remains of great concern and is a threat that could reverse the recent positive trends we are seeing."
In addition, when reporters asked Walensky about Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' (R) recent decision to end the state's mask mandate and social distancing requirements for bars and restaurants, Walensky said she would "discourage any such activity," because America has "yet to control" the coronavirus epidemic and the "emerging threat of [new coronavirus] variants." Walensky added, "We really need to keep all of the mitigation measures at play here if we're really going to get control of this pandemic."
Walensky said federal and state officials have increased their genome sequencing nearly tenfold over the past three weeks in an effort to identify more cases of the new variants. "We are anticipating we might find more" cases in the coming weeks, Walensky said.
Overall, Walensky urged Americans to "[p]lease continue to wear a mask and stay six feet apart from people you don't live with. Avoid travel, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces and get vaccinated [against Covid-19] when it's available to you" (Hall, Wall Street Journal, 2/9; Murray, CNN, 2/8; Sullivan, The Hill, 2/8; Lovelace, CNBC, 2/8; New York Times, 2/9; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 2/9; CDC Covid-19 vaccine data, 2/8).