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Is decline in US Covid-19 cases stalling? CDC warns ‘not the time to relax restrictions' as new variants spread

The shift may be a sign that new, highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus are beginning to take hold, according to public health experts
UPDATED FEB 27, 2021
CDC director said 'the virus is not done with us' (Getty Images)
CDC director said 'the virus is not done with us' (Getty Images)

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sounded the alarm that recent declines in coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths in the US may be stalling, a “concerning shift” as highly contagious variants threaten to worsen the pandemic. CDC head Dr Rochelle Walensky warned Americans that despite positive, downward trends in new cases, now is not the time for Americans to let down their guard against the novel coronavirus.

“Over the last few weeks, cases in hospital admissions in the US have been coming down since early January, and deaths have been declining in the past week. But the latest data suggest that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number. We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory,” said Dr Walensky during a briefing on February 26. She added, “Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions. Although we’ve been experiencing large declines in cases and admissions over the past six weeks, these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic.” 


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 CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said the agency considers this a very concerning shift in the trajectory (Getty Images)

Dr Walensky informed that the most recent seven-day average of cases, approximately 66,350, is higher than the average she had shared on February 23. Cases have been increasing for the past three days compared to the prior week, she noted on Friday, February 26. The agency chief emphasized that while deaths tend to fluctuate more than cases and hospital admissions, the most recent seven-day average, approximately 2,000 per day, is slightly higher than the seven-day average earlier in the week. 

“So I want to be clear: cases, hospital admissions, and deaths all remain very high. And the recent shift in the pandemic must be taken extremely seriously. We may be done with the virus, but clearly, the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. Not now. Not when mass vaccination is so very close,” emphasized Dr Walensky.

The CDC head requested Americans to give the time needed to get more vaccines into communities and to get more people vaccinated (Getty Images)

According to the CDC, where the pandemic goes from here depends on the collective behavior of Americans. “Together, we have the capacity to avoid another surge in our nation. I know people are tired, they want to get back to life to normal. But we're not there yet. Give us the time we need to get more vaccines into our communities and to get more people vaccinated. This is our path out,” she added. As of February 26, 94,300,910 doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been delivered across the US, and 70,454,064 doses have been administered. 

According to public health experts, the recent shift may be a sign that new, highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus are beginning to take hold. The CDC had earlier predicted that one variant, known as B.1.1.7 and first identified in the UK, could become the predominant strain in the US by March 2021. Dr Walensky noted that B.1.1.7 now represents about 10% of cases in the US, up from just 1% a few weeks ago. Some states have more cases of the highly contagious variant than others.

US Covid-19 cases caused by variants as of February 25 (CDC)

Viruses constantly change through mutation and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Several variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 are circulating in the US and globally. The UK variant was first detected in the US at the end of December 2020. Another variant called B.1.351 emerged in South Africa, independently of B.1.1.7. Cases caused by this variant have been reported in the US at the end of January 2021. In Brazil, a variant called P.1 emerged that was first identified in travelers from Brazil. This variant was first detected in the US at the end of January 2021.

These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of coronavirus. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations and potentially more death, explained the CDC.