A“potential fourth surge” of COVID-19 cases could be on the horizon in the US if extreme caution is not maintained, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned.
“I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a virtual White House briefing on March 1.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained… Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
“We have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country,” she added.
While numbers of new COVID-19 cases are significantly down from early to mid-January 2021, the declines in case numbers have leveled off at a very high number, comparable to the levels seen in the middle of the “second wave” in July 2020.
There is also concern around the growing threat of troublesome highly infectious variants. Speaking on February 26, Walensky also said the so-called “UK variant” now accounts for up to 10 percent of cases in the US, up from 1-4 percent a few weeks ago. As preliminary studies have suggested, this variant is more easily transmitted and has a higher degree of mortality compared to the original strain.
The Brazilian variant, another worrying variant, has also been detected in Oregon this week, while preliminary research in February also reported that seven variants of SARS-CoV-2 are on the rise across the US, all of which have independently gained similar mutations to the spike protein of the surface of the virus.
Despite the threat of new variants, some states are “opening up” and relaxing their social distancing measures. Texas has announced it will be ending its state-wide mask mandate and will allow businesses to reopen at full capacity next week. Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Tuesday: "It is now time to open Texas 100 percent" The CDC director, however, has warned this could provide fertile ground for new COVID-19 cases.
It isn't all doom and gloom though. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now authorized the use of three vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine that received the final green light from regulators on February 27. The rollout of the vaccines appears to be going relatively smoothly too, with over 78 million doses being administered, according to CDC data on March 2.
The US recorded over 50,000 new COVID-19 cases on March 1, according to the latest available CDC statistics. As per the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard, that brings the US total number of COVID-19 cases to over 28.7 million. Over 517,00 Americans have lost their lives to the disease.
For more information about COVID-19, check out the IFLScience COVID-19 hub where you can follow the current state of the pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and further insights into the disease.