Despite a widening availability of both COVID-19 vaccines and eligibility for who can get them, the United States is experiencing a rise in new coronavirus cases over the latter half of March 2021, worrying some health officials about a fourth wave of the pandemic.
CNBC reported that in a March 29 press conference, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she had a feeling of “impending doom” and urged Americans to “just hold on a little longer.” Later that day, President Joe Biden reminded Americans that the “war against Covid-19 is far from won,” condemning behavior likely to spread COVID-19 further and advising states to hit pause on their reopening plans.
The Washington Post, reporting on case numbers rising by as much as 12% nationwide in the prior week, noted that “the seven-day average of new cases topped 63,000 for the first time in nearly a month” with Michigan, Vermont, and North Dakota reporting substantial rises in case numbers.
Florida, which the New York Times called “the state furthest along in lifting restrictions, reopening society, and welcoming tourists” and “as a bellwether for the nation” regarding COVID-19 cases, is experiencing an 8% jump in case numbers in the final two weeks of March.
Also, concerningly, that includes what’s described as an “exponential” rise in cases involving the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the U.K.
“Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, on the Florida situation.
As the article noted, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has rejected calls for a statewide mask mandate during the pandemic, and students made the Sunshine State a spring break destination over the past month.
While the New York Times’ interactive coronavirus case tracker shows a plateau of case numbers from mid-February to mid-March, following a sharp drop in cases starting in early January, it’s also showing a slight uptick in cases over the past week.
On March 21, the U.S. registered 34,237 cases for a seven-day average of 54,407; by March 29, that was up to 70,265 cases and a seven-day average of 65,382. The March 29 numbers represent a 19% rise from the average just two weeks prior.
CNBC noted while the new numbers don’t match the third-wave peak of 250,000 in early January 2021, the new rising COVID cases are more in line with the second wave summer surge, when daily cases peaked near 70,000 in July 2020.
The CDC did have encouraging news for those who have secured vaccines, though. A new study of vaccinated health-care workers shows that one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine was 80% effective in preventing coronavirus infections, with 90% effectiveness coming two weeks after the second dose.
Vaccination numbers are also rising, with 2.4 million added to the rolls on March 29 for a seven-day average of 2.8 million doses given—the highest number to date. According to CDC data, nearly 30% of the U.S. population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with about 53 of those 95 million considered fully vaccinated.