Why Was CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Fighting Back Tears?

All public health officials agree, the United States is at a critical stage if we want to control the pandemic. All of them express deep fears that ignoring the Covid-19 pandemic at this stage is foolhardy. Especially dispensing with masks, social distancing, and other mitigations. President Biden has urged states to put aside politics and reinstate mask mandates. CDC director Rochelle Walensky was fighting back tears during an address where she went off script and pleaded with Americans to “hold on a little longer”. Their fears are well-founded, as infections are ticking up across the United States and abroad, as the global disaster of Covid-19 is unfolding once again. The seven-day average of new virus cases in the U.S. is currently over 65,000, a level comparable with late October’s average.

As seen in the chart below (Figure 1), cases are rising again worldwide, with just a few exceptions. Brazil is recording the world’s highest daily death tolls, which far exceed anything seen earlier in the pandemic and German officials have warned that this third wave could be far worse than the previous two.

These cases demonstrate that evidently, Covid-19 is a disease for all seasons, regardless of where in the world you might be. The U.S. was not spared the last time around. Indeed our infection rates soared to over 250,000 cases a day. Why does it appear that many of my fellow countrymen believe that they will be spared today? Scaling up vaccination campaigns will help, but with only 15.8% of the total population currently fully vaccinated, it is not enough to ward off this impending disaster.

We are not dealing with the same virus we were in previous waves. Our failure to fully control the pandemic in the early days has led to the proliferation of the variants. The variants are far more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and make up an increasing number of cases across the country. Florida has seen cases of the B.1.1.7 variant double from 1,075 to 2,330 and Brazil variant P.1 almost double from 19 to 42 cases in just the last week. With the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in many states and the highest rates of travel during the pandemic, our population is even more vulnerable to infection. Last week, I wrote about how careless spring break parties will contribute to a surge in cases. Seeing behaviors like these that could leave hundreds or thousands of more Americans dead is more than enough reason to cry

We cannot let “pandemic fatigue” get in the way of saving lives, if we don’t immediately implement precautions, any deaths that will come in the next few months will be needless with vaccinations so close.

Originally published on Forbes on March 31st, 2021 

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.