Biden, CDC director warn of virus rebound if nation lets up

  • President Joe Biden speaks during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations and the response to the pandemic, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Washington.

    President Joe Biden speaks during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations and the response to the pandemic, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Washington. Associated Press

  • In this March 19, 2021, photo, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leads President Joe Biden into the room for a COVID-19 briefing at the headquarters for the CDC Atlanta. Walensky is making an impassioned plea to Americans not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19. She warned on March 29 of a potential 'fourth wave' of the virus.

    In this March 19, 2021, photo, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leads President Joe Biden into the room for a COVID-19 briefing at the headquarters for the CDC Atlanta. Walensky is making an impassioned plea to Americans not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19. She warned on March 29 of a potential 'fourth wave' of the virus. Associated Press

  • President Joe Biden speaks during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris listens.

    President Joe Biden speaks during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris listens. Associated Press

  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

    Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 18, 2021. Associated Press

  • President Joe Biden departs after speaking during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Washington.

    President Joe Biden departs after speaking during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Washington. Associated Press

  • Chicago area residents pass between a drive-thru and walk-in mass vaccination site Monday, March 29, 2021, across the street from the United Center, home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks in Chicago. At least 11 states opened vaccine eligibility to all adults this week in a major expansion of COVID-19 shots for tens of millions of Americans amid a worrisome increase in virus cases and  concerns about supply and demand for the vaccines. In Chicago, the vaccine will not be available to everyone until at least May 1 because the city does not have enough shots on hand.

    Chicago area residents pass between a drive-thru and walk-in mass vaccination site Monday, March 29, 2021, across the street from the United Center, home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks in Chicago. At least 11 states opened vaccine eligibility to all adults this week in a major expansion of COVID-19 shots for tens of millions of Americans amid a worrisome increase in virus cases and concerns about supply and demand for the vaccines. In Chicago, the vaccine will not be available to everyone until at least May 1 because the city does not have enough shots on hand. Associated Press

  • People wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus wait in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines at a site in Philadelphia, Monday, March 29, 2021.

    People wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus wait in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines at a site in Philadelphia, Monday, March 29, 2021. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/29/2021 4:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden and a top health official warned Monday that too many Americans are declaring virus victory too quickly, appealing for mask requirements and other restrictions to be maintained or restored to stave off a 'fourth surge' of COVID-19. The head of the CDC said she had a feeling of 'impending doom' if people keep easing off.

The double dose of warnings came even as Biden laid out hopeful new steps to expand coronavirus vaccinations, with all adults to become eligible over the next 5 weeks. Biden announced plans to expand the number of retail pharmacies that are administering vaccines, and investments to help Americans get to vaccination sites. But the optimism was tempered by stark warnings about the potential for another wave of cases.

 

'This is deadly serious,' Biden said, urging governors to reinstate mask mandates and other restrictions that some states have been easing.

Hours earlier, during a virtual White House health briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, grew emotional as she reflected on her experience treating COVID-19 patients who are alone at the end of their lives.

'We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope," she said. "But right now, I'm scared.'

'I'm going to lose the script, and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom."

Cases of the virus are up about 10% over the past week from the previous week, to about 60,000 cases per day, with both hospitalizations and deaths ticking up as well, Walensky said. She warned that without immediate action the U.S. could follow European countries into another spike in cases and suffer needless deaths.

'I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen,' she said.

Later Monday, Biden addressed the nation from the White House, declaring, 'If we let our guard down now, we can see the virus getting worse, not better. People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing.'

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Biden delivered a direct appeal to governors, state and local leaders to reinstate mask-wearing requirements if they have lifted them, and said he encouraged leaders to pause plans to further ease virus-related restrictions.

'Please, this is not politics, reinstate the mandate if you let it down," he said.

Biden announced that by April 19 at least 90% of the adult U.S. population would be eligible for vaccination - and would have access to a vaccination site within 5 miles of home. Quick vaccination would still depend on supply.

Biden had previously directed that all states make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, but many have moved to lift eligibility requirements sooner in anticipation of supply increases.

Meanwhile, the White House is moving to double the number of pharmacies participating in the federal retail pharmacy program - which has emerged as among the most efficient avenues for administering vaccines - and increase the number of doses for them to deliver. Retail pharmacies are located relatively close to most Americans and have experience delivering vaccines like flu shots.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Biden announced that the U.S. is expecting delivery of 33 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week - including 11 million of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

More than one in five adults and nearly 50% of senior American are fully vaccinated, according to data from the CDC. On Thursday, the U.S. set new single-day record for shots in arms: more than 3.2 million.

'Now is not the time to let down," Biden said. 'Now's not the time to celebrate. It is time to do what we do best as a country: our duty, our jobs, take care of one another."

"Fight to the finish,' he added. "Don't let up now.'

Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, appealed to elected officials, community leaders and everyday Americans to maintain social distancing measures and mask wearing.

"We are doing things prematurely,' Fauci said, referring to moves to ease up on restrictions. Walensky appealed to Americans, 'Just please hold on a little while longer.'

She added: 'We are not powerless, we can change this trajectory of the pandemic."

Walensky pointed to an uptick in travel and loosening virus restrictions for the increase in cases. 'People want to be done with this. I, too, want to be done with this,' she said.

"We've seen surges after every single holiday,' she reiterated: 'Please limit travel to essential travel for the time being.'

The White House, meanwhile is ruling out the creation of a national 'vaccine passport' for Americans to verify their immunization status, saying it is leaving it to the private sector to develop a system for people show they've been vaccinated. Some other countries are establishing national databases to allow vaccinated people to resume normal activities.

'We do know that there is a segment of the population that is concerned that the government will play too heavy-handed of a role in monitoring their vaccinations," said White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt. He said officials are worried that 'it would discourage people' from getting vaccinated if the federal government was involved.

The administration, instead, is developing guidelines for such passports, touching on privacy, accuracy and equity, but the White House has not said when those guidelines will be ready.

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AP writer Jonathan Lemire contributed.

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