The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday warned of “impending doom” and said she is “scared” by pandemic trends that suggest the U.S. could see a coronavirus spike like the one afflicting Europe.
Her voice cracking with emotion, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she’s seen the toll of the virus on patients firsthand and wants Americans to heed precautions as the vaccination campaign hits full speed.
“Right now, I’m scared,” she said in an “off-script” comment during a White House COVID-19 briefing. “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. So I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.”
Dr. Walenksy delivered her warning as the rolling daily average of U.S. cases plateaus above 50,000 per day and ticks slightly upward.
The situation places the government’s messaging in an awkward phase, with federal officials racing not just the virus but a public that’s eager to enjoy the warmer seasons as they hear about America’s world-leading vaccine campaign.
“You can’t run around saying ‘get vaccinated and it works,’ and at the same time that things are out of control,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
He said the administration will need to fine-tune and tailor its message to individual groups, depending on their vaccination status or likely behavior, as Memorial Day and summer frivolity loom.
“Whether the government likes it or public health likes it, a COVID-weary public is likely to erupt in all types of risky behavior, all kinds of social interaction as the weather improves,” Mr. Caplan said. “I think that’s the reality, [even if] it may not be in sync with what the smartest thing to do. What we need to do is think hard about what normalcy is, and then start to target messages to certain groups.”
Biden officials acknowledged the disconnect during a White House briefing on Monday.
They said they’re trying to be honest about the situation even if it is not what people want to hear as the vaccine campaign reaches a greater share of Americans.
“We really do want to get back to normal as quickly as we possibly can,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We have, all of us, an urge — particularly with the warm weather coming — to just cut loose. We’ve just got to hang in there a bit longer. And I think the reason we’re seeing this plateauing and a bit of a little increase, that we hope doesn’t turn into a surge, is because we are really doing things prematurely right now with regard to opening up.”