CDC director warns of 'impending doom' as virus cases, hospitalizations rise

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a White House briefing on Monday warned of "impending doom" amid a recent increase in coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations. Walensky appeared to hold back tears as she expressed concerns the U.S. could soon bear witness to a fourth surge — even as the country has averaged some 2.7 million vaccinations over the past week alone. 

The U.S. in recent days surpassed 30 million cases of COVID-19, with the 7-day average of new cases around 60,000 — what Walenksy said represents about a 10% increase compared to the previous seven days. 

"Hospitalizations are up and deaths are slowly starting to rise with about 1,000 deaths per day," she said. 

"Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth and I have to hope and trust you will listen," Walensky continued. "I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope, but right now, I'm scared… please hold on a little while longer."

Walensky added that the "trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S. looks similar to other European states" such as Germany and France, where she said there is a "worrying spike in cases." 

"We can change the trajectory if we keep doing the right things. We don’t have the luxury of inaction, [we must] work now to prevent a fourth surge," she said. 

The CDC director said that the recent increase in travel — levels of which are even higher than those seen around the Christmas and the holiday season — as well as some states loosening coronavirus-related restrictions, is likely behind the increase in cases. 

"I worry we will see the surges we saw over the summer and winter again," she said, adding that she is planning this week to speak with governors from various states in an effort to prevent them from "opening up too quickly." Though Walensky did not specify which governors she will speak with, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate earlier this month. A few other states have followed suit.

Walensky, during the briefing, also spoke to the "many reasons to be hopeful," pointing to a CDC study released Monday that provides real-world evidence of what protections the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines provide. 

The vaccines, both created using mRNA technology, are "highly effective" in tamping down infections, including asymptomatic cases, according to the findings

The federal health agency examined results from a real-world vaccine rollout among nearly 4,000 at-risk essential workers, like healthcare staff and first responders, across six states from Dec. 14 to March 13, 2021.

Results indicated a 90% drop in infection risk after participants were fully vaccinated, i.e. two weeks after they received second jabs developed by Pfizer or Moderna. The findings also underscored a high level of protection after just a single dose; participants’ risk of infection was cut by 80% two weeks after their initial vaccination.

The findings were consistent with results from clinical trials conducted prior to the vaccines receiving emergency authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the CDC said.