The White House COVID-19 response team said Wednesday that they are encouraged by the U.S.’s rapid increase in vaccination rate as well as new data that shows virus positivity rate plunging among fully-vaccinated health care workers.
However, the group remains guarded in their hopes, citing still-high daily case rates that hover around 50,000 and could potentially spike in the weeks to come after coastal towns have reported issues in implementing social distancing policies as students vacation during spring break.
"We are at the corner. Whether or not we’re going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases.
“What worries me is that while we have about 24% of the population that has received one dose, and about 13% of the population that is fully vaccinated, what concerns me is the footage of what’s happening in spring breakers and people that are not continuing to implement prevention strategies while we get fully scaled up,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
The briefing took place just days after Miami Beach, Florida was forced to implement a city-wide curfew as vacationers chose to disregard the city’s social distancing policies. The night the curfew was implemented, police were forced to fire pepper balls into an unruly crowd to break it up.
Walensky urged all Americans, and in particular, local government leaders to “choose prevention” in the hopes of avoiding an unnecessary spike in cases ahead of the U.S. reaching herd immunity.
The team on Wednesday also lauded findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday that showed instances of COVID-19 in healthcare workers plummeting upon vaccination. Walensky called the studies a “jolt of hope” and proof that the vaccines are safe and effective.
"At the end of the day, that is what is going to end the pandemic in this country," Fauci said.
Fauci also addressed Tuesday’s controversy surrounding the AstraZeneca’s vaccine study, calling it a “miscommunication” and added that when additional information is delivered, he suspects it will still show the candidate to be a “good vaccine.
"We're always concerned when there's an apparent miscommunication ... we always want to make sure we are always completely transparent," Fauci said.
The regularly-scheduled briefing, took place less than a day after more states announced they planned to open up vaccination appointments to everyone older than 16.
Indiana, Texas and Georgia all announced Tuesday that they plan to offer vaccines to people of all ages and occupations by the end of the month, joining a growing list of states that plan to expand vaccinations ahead of the Biden administration’s May deadline.
However, the expansion of the vaccination pool in some states comes alongside the lifting of public health restrictions like mask requirements — decisions that go directly against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
On Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, announced he would be ending the state’s mandate requiring masks in public and, instead, making it an “advisory.” That decision leaves the question of mask mandates in the hands of local governments and business owners.
At a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky sounded the alarm against the lifting of mask mandates and other public health restrictions.
"I am worried that if we don't take the right actions now, we will see another avoidable surge," Walensky said.
Indiana joins a growing number of states and jurisdictions that have lifted mask mandates, notably Texas and Mississippi.