As of March 29, more than one-third of all Americans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. And while continued efforts to vaccinate a majority of Americans in order to reach "herd immunity" are ongoing, a March 30 poll found that vaccine hesitancy among Americans is decreasing overall — a promising sign that the light really is at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
But there has also been a surge of COVID-19 cases in specific areas of the country, presenting a serious cause for concern among the nation's top infectious disease experts. Just five states — New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey — accounted for 43% of all new COVID cases over the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In Michigan, the state is averaging more than 6,600 new COVID cases per day. Five weeks ago, the average was 1,350 new cases per day.
On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that while COVID-related deaths are coming down and hospitalizations are decreasing, "the number that is disturbing, Anderson, is the number of cases each day." Fauci went on to say that the number of new cases has "plateaued at a disturbingly high level" and that the United States is in danger of experiencing another coronavirus surge that could overwhelm hospitals and frontline medical workers.
"The way we're looking at it now: it's almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase and do what's going on, for example, in Europe, where they're having some surges now that are really quite alarming," Fauci continued. He shared that between 3 and 4 million people are being vaccinated every day and that the "vaccination program is going on really very well," before urging people to just "hang in there a bit longer" until the majority of the population can be vaccinated in order to get COVID-19 under control.
So, why are specific states seeing a spike in new cases, despite the increase in vaccination numbers? Health experts believe highly contagious COVID-19 variants are partly to blame. "Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B.1.1.7 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, said during a recent White House COVID-19 response team briefing.
In response to these specific surge areas, experts believe the federal government should provide additional vaccines to states experiencing an increase in cases. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, told CNN on Wednesday that "the federal strategy has to be to shift more vaccines to places like Michigan that are surging so they can use more vaccinations to stop that surge and save lives."
Of course, COVID-related fatigue is also playing a part in the rise in cases, after over a year of isolation, social distancing, mask-wearing, and conflicting safety measures touted by elected officials.
In the meantime, it would behoove us all to continue to mask-up, social distance, and stay home when we can. As Walensky pleaded during a response briefing: "This is a critical moment in our fight against the pandemic."