Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising across the country, health officials are voicing caution, warning that although there is an increase in the pace of vaccinations, the nation may have to prepare for a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, if Americans relax their guards too rapidly.
Since 71.8% of Americans 65 and older inoculated have been given at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a fourth wave could have fewer hospitalizations and deaths, according to experts.
“We have to begin to re-think how COVID case data is interpreted,” said Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor. “With rapid dissemination of the vaccines, increases in cases among healthy populations will not necessarily translate to hospitalizations and deaths as previously seen during the pandemic.”
At a White House briefing earlier this week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that she is concerned the U.S. could see “another avoidable surge” in COVID-19 cases if protective measures are ignored or relaxed. These measures include testing, mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and avoiding crowds.
On Saturday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” that he is “quite concerned” that “we might start seeing a resurgence of cases.”
After two months of steady declines, in the last week the national case average has increased by 12.5%, with just over 60,000 cases a day, similar to the case number increases experienced during the summer surge.
“We’re seeing rising cases in several locations around the world, including in some U.S. states so a fourth wave seems possible,” Rachel Baker, an epidemiologist at Princeton University, told ABC News.
In the first wave, the U.S. recorded a rapid rise in cases and deaths, concentrated in the Northeast, and more specifically, New York. During the summer, the country experienced a second wave with an increase of cases, hospitalizations and deaths throughout the nation. In early fall, the nation’s COVID-19 numbers fell, but were followed by an intense third wave in the late fall and early winter months with an unprecedented surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
A seven-day case average jump by at least 10% in the last week, hase been observed in 22 states according to data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the number of patients hospitalized appears to have also stopped falling, plateauing around 33,000, after falling by more than 70% since early January.