White House officials expressed optimism Wednesday about the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations while also voicing worries that partying on spring break at sunny tourist destinations could fuel outbreaks.
“I’m often asked, ‘Are we turning the corner?’ My response is really more like, ‘We are at the corner Whether or not we turn the corner remains to be seen,” White House senior medical adviser Anthony Fauci said at a press briefing. “We do have a lot of challenges in front of us with regard to the high level of daily infections.”
The level of daily new infections hovers around 55,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far below the winter surge but still too high to resume regular life.
“When you’re at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory and say you’ve turned the corner,” he said.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is monitoring the potential impact of spring break trips and stressed “hanging in there” for a few more weeks.
“I am indeed enthusiastic about the pace of vaccination that is happening, about the early data we’re seeing, about the changes in infection rates, the changes in emergency department rates,” Walensky said. “What concerns me is the footage of what is happening with spring breakers and people who are not continuing to implement prevention strategies while we get fully scaled up.”
Walensky said that while 24 percent of the population has received one dose and 13 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, it will require another couple of months to approach herd immunity where the spread of COVID-19 is limited.
“We’re at 13 percent. We need to get much higher than that to feel like we have adequate protection in this country,” Walensky continued. “We are watching what’s happening with people who are vacationing right now and that concerns me a lot.”
Governors have also expressed worries about a spring break surge.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said Tuesday that he was worried about people returning from Florida to the state.
“Our emphasis on the spring breakers coming back is to get tested, take precautions,” Hutchinson said.
But Hutchinson doubled down on a promise to lift the state’s mask mandate by March 31, despite questions about whether that would coincide with the incubation period of some traveling students who were potentially exposed.
He expressed concern about the political consequences of requiring public health protections like a mask mandate for a longer time.
“We’ve got some more work to do to make sure we articulate it in the right way and have appropriate guidance for our cities, for our employers and for our schools,” he said. “I think I would be roundly and appropriately criticized if I backpedaled from the commitment we made.”
Meanwhile, Biden administration officials said they are studying the spread of more infectious variants spreading within the United States.
Fauci highlighted three March 23 studies in the New England Journal of Medicine — one of workers in Israel, another from California and a third from Texas — showing that infections among health care workers in protective equipment who were fully vaccinated were extremely rare, even amid outbreaks of the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the United Kingdom.
“If you look at the level of infection in individuals who are doubly vaccinated, the level of infection is 0.05 percent. That’s extremely low. That’s where we want to be,” Fauci said.