Dr. Rochelle Walensky, selected as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during an event at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh | AP
The decline in Covid-19 cases reported in the US since early January could level off, a worrying shift as highly communicable variants pose a risk of exacerbation of infections, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.
“In the past few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the US have decreased since early January, and deaths have decreased over the past week,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a press conference. “However, the latest data suggests that these declines may stall and possibly weaken if a number is still very high.”
According to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the nation reports a daily average of around 73,376 new cases for the past week, a slight increase compared to a week ago. The US hit a high of nearly 250,000 cases per day in early January after the winter break.
The recent postponement could be a sign that new, highly transmittable variants of the coronavirus are starting to take hold, Walensky said. A variant, known as B.1.1.7 and first found in the UK, is expected to be the predominant variety in mid to late March, experts have predicted.
The B.1.1.7 variant appears to be causing about 10% of new Covid-19 cases in the US, up from just 1% a few weeks ago, Walensky said. However, some states have more cases of the highly communicable variant than others.
Senior U.S. health officials have warned in recent weeks that the variants could reverse the current downward trend in infections in the U.S. and delay the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
The head of the federal health department said states shouldn’t start lifting restrictions on businesses and gatherings given the direction of the fall and the high prevalence of virus.
“I want to be clear: cases, hospital admissions and deaths are still very high, and the recent postponement of the pandemic must be taken extremely seriously,” said Walensky.
The Chief Medical Officer of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the nation will be in “a precarious position” if the number of new cases every day starts to surge to around 70,000.
“We need to carefully consider what happens to these numbers over the next few weeks before you see the understandable need to relax with certain restrictions,” said Fauci.