CDC Director: Shark's Still Out There, Could We Not Open Beaches Just Yet?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky did something yesterday that we almost never saw under the previous administration's non-response to the coronavirus pandemic: She said she had a feeling of "impending doom" that we may be facing a fourth wave of the pandemic, because too many Americans stopped taking public health guidelines seriously or even at all. President Joe Biden echoed her concerns, calling on state governments that have let their guard down to re-impose mask mandates and limits on business capacity, because even though we're making progress on vaccinations, the virus is still a virus, and it spreads when people don't take measures to prevent it.
Please, this is not politics. [...] A failure to take this virus seriously — precisely what got us into this mess in the first place — risks more cases and more deaths.
Here are Walensky's full comments, which include some good news about the effectiveness of the vaccines, but only after she soberly says things are looking really bad at the moment:
Walensky noted that the US has now reached a total of 30 million total infections since the start of the pandemic, and that new infections and hospitalizations are both rising. And as with previous spikes in the pandemic, deaths have started to rise as well. Then she reminded viewers that when she took the job as CDC director, she promised to "tell you the truth, even if it was not the news we wanted to hear." She got right to her concerns:
Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth and I have to hope and trust you will listen. I'm going to pause here. I'm going to lose the script, and 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.
Just to impress on listeners how deadly serious this is, she reminded us what the end result of a fourth spike in infections will look like:
I know what it's like as a physician to stand in that patient room, gowned, gloved, masked, shielded, and to be the last person to touch someone else's loved one because their loved one couldn't be there. […] And I know what it's like to pull up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside.
Yes, things are getting better in many ways! That's a reason for optimism, but not for throwing caution to the wind — though if you're in the wind, you're in better shape than someone throwing caution to the crowded bar with crappy ventilation.
We have come such a long way: three historic scientific breakthrough vaccines, and we are rolling them out so very fast. So I'm speaking today, not necessarily as your CDC director, not only your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer.
Walensky acknowledged that we're tired of the pandemic. Of course we are. But you can't actually make a very contagious virus (especially not its more-contagious, more-deadly variants) go away by saying you're not going to live in fear and throwing away your mask.
I so badly want to be done, I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet. And so I am asking you to just hold on a little bit longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all the people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.
And to underline that this isn't just about her doctor-sense tingling, Walensky pointed out that the upward trends for viral spread in the US look a hell of a lot like the numbers that were seen in Europe before much larger recent outbreaks there, too.
That said, Walensky also noted, as yet another reason to hold on, that new CDC data on people who were vaccinated early on with either of the two-dose vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, show that the vaccines are highly effective at protecting people from getting infected. We already knew from the clinical trials that both vaccines prevent people from becoming seriously ill or needing to be hospitalized, but the new data show that among healthcare workers, first responders, and others who received both doses of the vaccine, 90 percent avoided getting infected at all, which means they also can't spread the virus. (The CDC study also found 80 percent effectiveness at preventing infection after a single dose, but don't just get a single dose of the two-dose vaccines.) That's incredibly effective, compared to, say, the roughly 50 percent effectiveness of the yearly flu vaccine.
That good news, though, is no reason to stop wearing masks or social distancing, because math: 90 is not 100, and until we actually reach the far higher rates of vaccination and really have herd immunity, we need to stay careful.
The Washington Post also points out another troubling trend: In some hospitals, the average age of folks being hospitalized for COVID-19 is starting to get younger, which suggests that "vaccines are protecting people older than 65 who once were the most vulnerable but leaving the unvaccinated exposed." That's not good! At Monday's briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that we're still in "a race between the vaccine and what's going on with the dynamics of the outbreak. And we can win this by just hanging in there a bit longer."
President Biden said yesterday that the administration is doing everything it can to get vaccines to as many Americans as possible:
"With vaccines there's hope, which is a very good thing," he said. He promised that his administration would double the number of retail pharmacies offering coronavirus vaccines within the next three weeks, by which time 90 percent of adults in the United States will be eligible for the shots.
With additional locations established by April 19, virtually all residents will live within five miles of a vaccination site, Biden said, calling the immunization campaign the "American turnaround story."
But until we actually blow that damn shark out of the water, could we please just stay off the goddamned beach?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.