When a top national health official warns of “impending doom” because of a potential fourth surge of the pandemic, you sit up and pay attention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made that ominous prediction earlier this week.
That is not what the country wants to hear. After coping with the Covid-19 virus for over a year and the increased distribution of vaccines, Americans are ready to put the pandemic behind them and get on with their lives.
But we cannot just yet.
Dr. Walensky, who was deeply impacted by working on the front lines and seeing people die alone from the virus, is just trying to warn us against backsliding.
The number of Covid cases across the country is increasing, up ten percent over the last seven days from the previous week, Walensky reported. Deaths, which tend to lag a rise in positive cases, are also up slightly.
The New York Times reported, “In nine states over the past two weeks, virus cases have risen more than 40 percent. Michigan led the way with a 133 percent increase, and the Northeast has also seen a marked rise in virus cases.” Neighboring Pennsylvania reported a 40 percent increase.
West Virginia had a steady downward trend for about two months. The number of confirmed daily cases of Covid peaked at 1,702 on December 31, but dropped to below 200 by early March. However, that number is inching back up, as is the number of current active cases.
Many of the new cases are younger individuals. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department reported this week 41 cases involving school students. That prompted the health department to conduct vaccination clinics at the schools.
“We’re changing our strategy to vaccinate in the groups where we continue to see Covid-19 spread,” said Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Officer and Executive Director Dr. Sherri Young. “Unfortunately, we continue to see high numbers of cases and outbreaks in our schools, mostly related to sports, so that’s one of the places we want to focus our efforts.”
West Virginia’s vaccine distribution system has been confusing at times, but overall, the state, local health departments and participating pharmacies have done an admirable job getting shots in arms, especially in those older West Virginians who are most vulnerable.
As of Tuesday, 493,189 West Virginians had received their first dose and 311,181 were fully vaccinated, according to the DHHR dashboard. The pace should pick up as more doses become available and Walmart pharmacies begin administering shots.
Dr. Walensky’s “impending doom” comment grabbed the headline, but context is important. She is watching the surges in Germany, France and Italy, and is encouraging Americans to get vaccinated and follow health advisories to avoid a similar fate here.
“We must work together now to prevent a fourth surge,” she said. “Just hold on a little longer, get vaccinated when you can, so that all those people we love will still be with us when the pandemic ends.”
That is a practical plea, and one similarly stated often by local and state health officials. It would be a heartbreaking waste and an economic travesty if we squandered the progress we’ve made.