“We’re … seeing what happens in other countries when these variants take over,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN Monday night. “There is (an) explosive surge, even when the countries are basically in shutdown.”
Wen, who is a former Baltimore City Health Commissioner, added that the US faces “something really potentially catastrophic, and we should be doubling down on the measures that we know to work.”
More than 690 cases of Covid-19 variants first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the US, according to CDC data updated Sunday.
Wen’s comments follow several state leaders’ announcements on easing of Covid-19 safety measures.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced last month the statewide mask mandate would be allowed to expire, telling CNN last week he was not concerned Covid-19 numbers would go up. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds recently signed an executive order ending all mask requirements, gathering restrictions and other public health emergency mandates, while encouraging residents to follow recommended safety guidelines.
And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday New York City indoor dining can reopen at 25% capacity on February 12.
Even amid a dip in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide, easing restrictions now is “incredibly risky,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is absolutely essential that we continue to do steps beyond vaccination to keep this under control,” Besser said. “The reason for that is, that the more this virus is allowed to spread in our communities, the more we’re going to see these variants spreading.”
“And if the vaccines aren’t as effective against some of these variants, then we could see the gains that we’re so excited about right now, we could see those reversed in a very short amount of time.”
Vaccine challenges remain
So far, more than 32 million Americans have received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. More than 9.5 million people have received both doses, the data shows.
And while officials have expressed optimism that vaccinations will continue ramping up in the coming weeks, local and state leaders continue to face challenges, including in the number of doses they have available and in ensuring equitable access to vaccines.
Los Angeles County health officials announced that starting Tuesday, the county will only offer appointments for second doses of the vaccine due to a shortage in supply.
“Scheduling an appointment right now is challenging because of the limited supply of vaccines that the county is receiving on a weekly basis,” county health officials said in a news release. That will last for the remainder of the week.
The move comes in order to “ensure that we have enough doses to guarantee a second dose for people who already received the first one,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a Monday news conference.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Monday the state would produce demographic data every week of where vaccine doses go, so that they will be “held accountable” for equitable access.
“Black and African American Kentuckians, to date, have received about 4.3% of vaccinations where we know the person’s race. That is unacceptable,” the governor said.
“About 1.1% of vaccines, where ethnicity is known, have gone to our Hispanic population — also too low,” he added in a statement.
For Americans who are fully vaccinated, more guidelines on what they should and should not do could be on the way, Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a meeting Monday.
“By existing guidelines, you still need to wear a mask, you still have to do social distancing, but I believe that’s going to change,” Fauci said. “We’re talking about this at the level of the CDC.”
What travel could look like
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN on Monday the CDC is also “looking at all its options,” after he was asked whether there could soon be a measure introduced that requires Covid-19 testing before domestic flights.
“What we know is that it’s the appropriate measure for international travel, people traveling into the US given some of those considerations. You know I’d say the domestic picture is very different, but you know the CDC is always evaluating what can best be done to keep Americans safe,” Buttigieg said.
When asked if he supports the idea of requiring proof of a Covid-19 vaccination before air travel, Buttigieg said that is up to the CDC.
“That’s not a step that has been taken, and again the CDC is really in the lead on deciding what the right measures will be,” Buttigieg said. “Right now the focus, especially at a time when most Americans haven’t had a vaccine, haven’t had access to a vaccine, is to make sure that while we’re getting those vaccinations out to everybody we possibly can, we’re also maintaining those measures that we know are available and that work, like wearing a mask.”
More than 2.9 million children have had Covid-19
Meanwhile, a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association said more than 2.9 million children have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic’s start.
Covid-19 cases in children represent nearly 13% of all US cases, the report added.
In the week between January 28 to February 4, more than 117,000 new child infections were recorded, the report added, while in the two weeks ending February 4, there was a 10% increase in Covid-19 cases in children.
Severe illness from the virus remains rare among children, the report said.
“However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects,” it added.