The University of Connecticut football team cut its spring practices short because of positive

The vaccine rollout is giving people hope and the spring weather is making everyone even more restless, she acknowledged, but it’s too soon for Americans to let down their guard, return to travel and stop using the precautions – such as mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing – that are known to be protective.

She said she was speaking not just as CDC director, but as a wife, daughter, mother, and doctor.

“I know what it’s like as a physician to stand in that patient room – gowned, gloved, masked, shielded – and to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one because their loved one couldn’t be there,” she said. “And I know what it’s like to pull up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside.”

A race against COVID-19 variants
President Joe Biden reiterated Walensky’s sentiments in a news conference Monday afternoon and called on governors and mayors to continue or renew COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates.

“The war against COVID-19 is far from won. This is deadly serious,” he said. “We could still see a setback in the vaccination program. And most importantly, if we let our guard down now, we could see a virus getting worse, not better.”

Although roughly 30% of American adults have been vaccinated so far, only 16% are fully protected, and many more remain vulnerable.

Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson:Comparing the COVID-19 vaccines

“We have to give more shots in April than we did in March because we’re in the life-and-death-race for the virus that is spreading quickly with cases rising again,” Biden said. “New variants are spreading. And, sadly, some of the reckless behavior we’ve seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead.”

New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are changing the fight, said Eric Feigl-Ding an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

The vaccines are designed to combat – and are very effective against – the virus that circulated in the U.S. last year.

But as new variants that originated in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil and even New York take over, some are making the virus more contagious – which makes careful mask-wearing even more important – and some are making the vaccines less protective, he said.

A surge of more infectious variants now could reach people before they’ve had a chance to be vaccinated, Feigl-Ding said. One variant originally identified in Brazil is 2 to 2.5 times more transmissible; another seen in South Africa, may be able to reinfect people who were infected only a few months ago.

Still, he’s hopeful that the fast rollout of vaccines will be able to control the spread.

“I think the fourth wave is upon us,” he said, “but I think the vaccine will hold it back.”

‘So tantalizingly close to being … safer’
Someday soon, vaccinations and lower case counts will allow Americans to resume traveling, socializing in groups and many other things, Walensky said. But not yet.

“I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” she said.

Walensky did not specify how much longer she thinks people need to remain cautious.

Reich said he thinks just another few weeks could do it.

Unlike the surge of a year ago when few people had ever seen COVID-19, at least 30 million Americans – and by some estimates as many as three times more – have been infected with the virus and built up at least some protection against it.

Vaccination is expected to be even more protective than natural immunity and to prevent nearly all hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC and now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative aimed at preventing epidemics and heart disease.

‘You can’t trust the government’:Spanish-speaking social media spreads COVID-19 vaccine disinformation, adds to hesitancy

Although he sees the next month or two as problematic, Frieden said people don’t need to put their entire lives on hold. They should feel free to go outside and go to stores – masked up. People enjoying a beach day aren’t a problem; it’s the bars they go to afterward where the virus gets transmitted, he said.

But to really beat this pandemic, people should get vaccinated as soon as possible, continue to limit their travel and minimize the number of people they share indoor air with for a few more months, he said.

“What’s so frustrating about this is that we’re so tantalizingly close to being so much safer,” he said. “By summer, it’s going to be so much better. By fall we will be at the new reality unless some horrible variant takes over – I can’t guarantee that won’t happen – but like three months, folks. Just keep a lid on it for three months and we can prevent a lot of deaths.”

Contact Karen Weintraub at kweintraub@usatoday.com.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

The U.S. and a dozen other countries issued a rare joint statement on Tuesday questioning the validity of a World Health Organization study into the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, and has now killed almost 2.8 million people across the globe.

“We support a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, we join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China,” reads the statement, which was issued by the U.S. State Department in coordination with a raft of other governments, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The controversy swirled as the U.S. reported that half of all seniors have now been vaccinated. “Vaccination milestone,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, White House senior COVID adviser. “50% of all seniors have now been fully vaccinated.”

The statement included strong support for the WHO and did not directly blame China for interfering with the scientific probe. But it said health experts were delayed in studying the origins of the virus and that even when granted access, they were denied “complete, original data and samples.”

“The mission of the WHO is critical to advancing global health and health security,” the statement said.”Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”

The WHO’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also highlighted China’s lack of cooperation.

“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” he said. “Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”

– Deirdre Shesgreen

►German health officials recommended restricting the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots. Canada suspended use of the vaccine among people under 55.

►The University of Connecticut football team cut its spring practices short because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing protocols, the Hartford Courant reported. The Huskies were one of a small number of FBS teams to opt out of the 2020-21 season.

►German health officials recommended restricting the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots. Canada suspended use of the vaccine among people under 55.

►The University of Connecticut football team cut its spring practices short because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing protocols, the Hartford Courant reported. The Huskies were one of a small number of FBS teams to opt out of the 2020-21 season.

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