The U.S. is in a delicate position as Covid cases increase alongside vaccinations, experts warn
Revelers flock to the beach to celebrate the spring break while coronavirus disease (COVID-19) broke out in Miami Beach, Florida, United States on March 6, 2021.
Marco Bello | Reuters
With the possibility of summer barbecues in a few months’ time and the promise of widespread supplies of Covid-19 vaccines in the US by the end of May, many Americans may feel that the nation has finally turned the pandemic around.
But the country is not there for leading infectious disease experts.
“When I am often asked: ‘Are we going to turn the corner?’ My answer is more like, “We’re on the corner,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Officer of the White House, during a press conference on Wednesday.
Before the US can achieve its long-awaited goal – a semblance of normality before the pandemic – it needs to get more vaccines up its arms, infectious disease experts tell CNBC. As the US continues to report new daily vaccination records, the number of new cases is growing again.
According to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the US is seeing a weekly average of 61,821 new Covid-19 cases per day, up 12% from the previous week. Daily cases now grow at least 5% in 27 states and DC
Coronavirus hospital stays are also starting to recover. The U.S. reported an average of 7,790 Covid-19 hospital admissions in seven days on Thursday, up 2.6% from the previous week. This is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are in a delicate and difficult transition phase,” said Dr. William Schaffner, epidemiologist and professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told CNBC. “We’re fine, but we’re not there yet.”
Do not fiddle with the ball
The surge in infections coincides with an accelerated vaccination campaign that is gradually reaching more people.
The U.S. currently administers an average of 2.6 million shots a day, and more than a third of American adults have received at least one dose, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Almost half of people aged 65 and over have all of the necessary recordings, CDC data shows. However, only 19.4% of the adult population are considered fully vaccinated, which is necessary to achieve the high level of protection offered by current Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
While most states announced plans to open up vaccination eligibility to all adults ahead of President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline, only six have chosen to offer vaccinations across the board, according to the latest data from the New York Times.
“We’re on the proverbial 10-yard line,” said Schaffner. “We’re going to get the ball over and have a touchdown, but not fumble the ball on the 10-yard line.”
Some states are largely reopening their economies while dropping mask mandates too soon, Schaffner added. The return of travelers in the spring break using cheap flights and hotels has further increased the risk of further infections.
“All of these things could mean that in cases before the vaccinations really reduce transmission, there is another increase,” Schaffner said. “We run the risk – and I mean the risk – of seeing another surge within the next two months.”
Another problem is the spread of highly infectious coronavirus variants, particularly the variant first identified in the UK called B.1.1.7., Infectious disease experts told CNBC. The CDC is carefully tracking another variant found in New York City called B.1.526, which is also considered more transmissible compared to previous strains, said agency director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, on Wednesday.
A more transmissible virus could lead to more infections and inevitably hospitalizations and deaths, even if the most at risk are vaccinated against the disease, experts warn, making the race to vaccinate more people crucial.
“The variants are really quite a key to the response,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, saying that the vaccines should continue to provide protection.
“We just need to vaccinate more of our population to really stamp out this thing,” said Hewlett.
Increased travel could aid the spread of B.1.1.7, which is a particular problem in Florida, where visitors outside of the state during the spring break could bring the virus back to their local communities, said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida.
According to the latest CDC data, Florida has identified more than 1,000 coronavirus cases with variant B.1.1.7, the most so far in any state.
“There is no doubt that there are a lot of people who have come from outside the state. That happens every year for the spring break,” said Prins. “And then the concern is what will be brought back into their own state. Will they bring the variant back?”
– CNBC’s Hannah Miao contributed to this report.