Don’t be fooled by the packed beaches and rollback of safety mandates in several states.
Covid-19 is still spreading rampantly and must be tackled aggressively if we want life to get back to normal soon, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday.
Even though daily new cases have dropped since January, “over the last couple of weeks, they’ve plateaued,” said the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“When you see a plateau at a level as high as 60,000 cases a day, that is a very vulnerable time to have a surge, to go back up. That’s what exactly happened in Europe.”
After promising declines in Covid-19 numbers, “they plateaued and they pulled back on public health measures,” Fauci said.
“The younger people, particularly, stopped wearing masks. All of a sudden, you have a surge that went right back up.”
Much of Italy will be under new lockdown orders starting Monday as coronavirus variants infiltrate the country. Those variants include the highly contagious B.1.1.7 and P.1 strains, which are also spreading in the US.
France is also suffering another surge that’s setting the country back again.
Some surgeries have been postponed in the Paris area, and about 100 coronavirus patients must be evacuated to “other regions where the situation in ICUs is less tense,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said.
The good news: You can help the US avoid similar fates by getting vaccinated as soon as you’re able to and doubling down on personal safety measures to protect yourself and those around you.
If we succeed in those efforts, “by the time we get into the early summer, the Fourth of July weekend, we really will have a considerable degree of normality,” Fauci said.
“We don’t want to let that escape from our grasp by being too precipitous in pulling back.”
Why travel is so risky right now
We’re still months away from getting enough people vaccinated to achieve herd immunity – the point at which enough people are protected against a disease that it cannot spread.
Until then, countless more Americans young and old are at risk of infection and long-term effects. A recent study found that 30% of people with Covid-19 still had symptoms up to nine months after infection.
So this is not the time to travel, the CDC says, especially with highly contagious variants running wild.
At least 4,858 cases of coronavirus variants first spotted in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the United States, according to data updated Sunday by the CDC. The vast majority of these cases, 4,690, are the more contagious variant known as B.1.1.7.
“We are very worried about transmissible variants,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A lot of them have come through our travel corridors. So we’re being extra cautious right now with travel.”
Doctors say we should learn from our mistakes last year to avoid a repeat of the surges – and suffering – that follow.
“What we have seen is that we have surges after people start traveling. We saw it after July 4, we saw it after Labor Day, we saw it after the Christmas holiday,” Walensky said.
But many Americans have ignored such warnings, threatening to help spread the virus between cities and states.
‘Too many people coming here to let loose’
In Florida, throngs of spring breakers are mixing where the B.1.1.7 strain is rampant.
Research shows that in the US, the B.1.1.7 variant is 59% to 74% more transmissible than the original novel coronavirus.
“Spring break in Florida could spell disaster for the country,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Anyone who gets infected there could easily spread the virus after returning to their home states.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, more than 1.3 million people were screened at US airports Friday. That’s the highest number in almost a year, since March 15, 2020.
“We’re seeing too much spring break activity,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said.
“We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here. We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here to let loose.”
About 100 people have been arrested this weekend in Miami Beach, city public information specialist Veronica Payssé said Sunday. The arrests included weapons offenses and drug arrests.
Unruly crowds Friday night led to two Miami Beach officers getting injured and hospitalized, the police department tweeted. And police made 30 arrests Saturday night.
Payssé said the issues are typical for spring break crowds, but the task of policing crowds during Covid-19 has become twice as hard.
And because the state of Florida doesn’t allow local jurisdictions to fine people for violating mask orders, the city can only offer free masks in hopes that people wear them.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer urged revelers to stay safe while celebrating spring break.
“We’ve come a long way as a community in slowing the spread of the virus,” Dyer tweeted. “As you enjoy our city and our wonderful weather this weekend, continue your pandemic precautions.”
Keep your mask on. Here’s why:
It’s not just the crowds that put America at risk of another surge. It’s that some states jumped the gun in loosening safety mandates, health experts say.
“I think we are letting loose a bit too early because we’re talking about lifting mask mandates,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen said.
“I understand reopening businesses. I want our businesses and our schools, our churches and other institutions to reopen. We can do that if we keep in place mask mandates.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said the state will remove its statewide mask requirement and allow bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms to resume normal operations starting Tuesday.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said he was doing away with any restrictions on events or residents and was removing a mask requirement in state buildings.
The removal of mask mandates flies in the face of what should be done as the B.1.1.7 strain picks up steam, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
“If there was ever a time to put on the mask, this is it,” Collins told MSNBC on Saturday. “Every bit of data proves that mask wearing reduces infections, reduces deaths.”
Vaccines could help prevent transmission, not just illness
All three vaccines authorized for use in the US are highly effective in preventing severe illness.
But the vaccines could also help protect people from getting infected and passing the virus to others, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration and a current Pfizer board member.
“All of the evidence across all the vaccines now is pointing in the direction that these vaccines reduce asymptomatic infection and reduce transmission,” Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“If in fact this vaccine has a substantial impact on reducing transmission, it’s going to become a very important public health tool in controlling the epidemic,” Gottlieb said.
But there are several major challenges standing in the way of getting Covid-19 under control. They include “constrained vaccine supply, ongoing vaccine hesitancy and increasing myths and disinformation,” Walensky said.
More than 69.7 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data.
And more than 37.4 million are fully vaccinated. That’s about 11.3% of the US population.
In efforts to boost vaccinations, many states are expanding the pools of people eligible to get a vaccine this week.
In Alaska, people living or working in the state age 16 or older can get the vaccine. Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is the only one available for use by people who are 16 or older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are restricted to people 18 or older.
Rhode Island eligibility opened Friday to residents who are 60 to 64, as well as people 16 to 64 with certain underlying health conditions.
In Georgia, residents 55 and older and people with disabilities and certain medical conditions will be eligible for a vaccine starting Monday.
Also starting Monday, Kentuckians 16 and older with any medical or behavioral health condition that the CDC says could be at increased risk of severe Covid-19 illness will also be eligible for the vaccine. Health officials said smoking will not be in the covered conditions in the state.
In California, those with certain high-risk medical conditions or disabilities will be eligible for a vaccine starting Monday.
“The national supply of the vaccine remains limited,” state health officials said, “so appointments for the estimated 4.4 million Californians with these conditions or disabilities will not immediately be available to all who are eligible.”
‘It would be very helpful’ if Trump told his supporters to get vaccinated
About 47% of people who supported President Donald Trump in the 2020 election said they would not get a Covid-19 vaccine if it became available to them, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
Only 10% of those who supported President Joe Biden said they would not get the Covid-19 vaccine.
Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday” that if Trump told his Republican supporters to get vaccinated, it “would make all the difference in the world.”
“He’s a very widely popular person among Republicans. If he came out and said, ‘Go and get vaccinated, it’s really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country,’ it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him,” Fauci said.
Former presidents from both parties publicly received their Covid-19 vaccines to show Americans that they’re safe. Trump did not and got his vaccine quietly instead.
Many health experts, including Fauci, have estimated 70% to 85% of the population must be vaccinated for the country to reach herd immunity – which would help businesses stay open at full capacity and bring life closer to normal.
CNN’s Naomi Thomas, Natasha Chen, Lauren Mascarenhas, Melissa Alonso, Rebekah Riess, Jacqueline Howard, Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace contributed to this report.