3 top health experts say the US is on the brink of another COVID-19 surge thanks to the variant first found in the UK, just as states relax restrictions

Fauci Biden
White House Chief Medical Advisor on Covid-19 Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) listens as President Joe Biden (L) speaks as he tours the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health.

  • Health experts on Sunday warned of another COVID-19 surge in the US.
  • Dr Celine Gounder said the variant first found in the UK was spiking. “We’re on a tipping point of another surge.”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said that although cases were falling, they were plateauing at a “very high” level.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Top public health officials in the US on Sunday warned of another surge in COVID-19 cases if states relax restrictions too soon.

Mississippi, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, and most recently Texas have lifted compulsory mask-wearing in public, despite health officials advising against it. 

Dr. Celine Gounder, a US infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist, said in a CNN interview on Sunday the coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, which is more infectious, was spreading rapidly across America.

“That strain is increasing exponentially. It’s spiking up,” she said. “So we are probably right now on a tipping point of another surge.”

More than 3,000 cases of the variant have been reported in the US, CDC data from Sunday showed.

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 has dropped to fewer than 70,000, according to data from John Hopkins University. This is down from more than 240,000 new daily cases earlier this year – but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious disease expert, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the numbers were still “really very high.”

“Plateauing at a level of 60,000 to 70,000 new cases per day is not an acceptable level. That is really very high,” Fauci said.

“We do want to come back carefully and slowly about pulling back on mitigation methods. But don’t turn that switch on and off because it really would be risky to have yet again another surge,” he said.

Fauci added that the coronavirus strain first found in New York isn’t widespread yet, but is spreading beyond the New York City metropolitan area. Health officials are also monitoring four other variants in the US, first found in the UKSouth AfricaBrazil, and California.

Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday the US is the “eye of the hurricane.”  

He said the coronavirus variant from the UK “is about to come upon us,” adding that “it’s wreaking havoc in parts of Europe.”

Their comments come five days after Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he’d lift a mask mandate and allow businesses to open “100%” in the state, going against the advice of federal health officials.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, on Tuesday said the US could have a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases if people don’t follow public-health recommendations. “Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” she said.

Coronavirus has infected more than 28.9 million Americans and killed more than 525,000, according to data from John Hopkins University

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Top disease expert says US in the ‘eye of the hurricane’ as COVID cases decline amid growing concern over spread of UK variant

Michael Osterholm
Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday, October 18, 2020.

  • Michael Osterholm, a top disease expert, said Sunday the US is the “eye of the hurricane.”  
  • New daily cases have fallen from their peak earlier this year, but there’s still cause for concern.
  • Several states have scaled back restrictions, but experts warn such actions are premature.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board, warned Sunday about the current state of the pandemic in the US despite a continued decline in new cases.

“We are in the eye of the hurricane right now,” he said during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “It appears that things are going very well – you even see blue skies. We’ve been through a terrible terrible year.”

According to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University, the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 diagnosed each day has fallen to less than 70,000 new cases each day – down from a peak earlier this year where new daily cases surpassed 200,00.

Vaccinations have also been accelerated as supply has increased following the emergency authorization of the single-shot Johnson & Johson vaccine in late February. Biden said on March 6 all adult Americans could be vaccinated by the middle of May.

But Osterholm said there was reason for concern over the spread of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the virus, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom and has since “wreaked havoc” on Europe.

About a month ago, 1 to 4% of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the US were of the B.1.1.7 variant, Osterholm said. But today, about 30 to 40% of new cases were the variant. When cases of B.1.1.7 have reached about 50% of the cases in Europe, the virus begins to “surge,” he added, warning of a possible spike in the US.

“Many of these countries have been in lockdown now for two months just to try to control this virus,” Osterholm said of European countries hit hard by the variant.

The warnings come amid relaxed public health measures that health officials have warned are premature. States across the US have begun to once again scale back measures to stem the spread of COVID-19. Several states including Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota, have rescinded mask mandates.

Experts have also warned that spring break vacationers could spread the highly contagious variant in the coming weeks, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to discourage travel.

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