President Biden on Monday urged state and local officials to reconsider lifting their coronavirus restrictions and to reinstate mask mandates that have lapsed as the U.S. faces an increase in cases.
His request comes as Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a virtual White House briefing on Monday she had a feeling of “impending doom,” saying that “right now, I’m scared.”
Biden said, “I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate,” Biden said at an event intended to highlight the rapid increase in vaccine eligibility. “Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down.
Asked later if some states should pause reopening efforts, Biden said “yes.”
Upon taking office, he issued a call for Americans to mask up for the first 100 days of his administration, arguing that doing so would help curb COVID-19 cases while the country ramped up vaccinations.
States have aggressively started lifting mask mandates and easing restrictions on businesses and events in recent weeks as vaccine availability steadily increases, prompting concern from some in the federal government.
Dr. Walensky, said, “Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen. I’m going to pause here. I’m going to lose the script, and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” Walensky said, appearing to tear up.
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared,” Walensky said.
“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 they are not able to be there,” she continued.
Walensky said that the United States has come “such a long way” with three authorized vaccines and pleaded with the nation to keep following mitigation measures and “just please hold on a little while longer.”
She went on to further explain why she worries about “impending doom,” referencing how the country has seen a steady increase of coronavirus infections.
“What we’ve seen over the last week or so is a steady rise of cases,” Walensky said. “I know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again.”
According to Walensky, the seven day average of new cases is around 60,000 cases per day, a 10 percent increase over the past week. The numbers are still a far cry from the peak in January, but the rise comes after a sustained period of stagnation.
“When we see that uptick in cases, what we have seen before is that things really have a tendency to surge, and surge big,” Walensky said.
Walensky said hospitalizations have also increased over the past week, as the most recent seven day average is about 4,800 admissions per day, up from 4,600 admissions per day in the prior seven days.
She said that the country has come “such a long way” with three authorized vaccines and pleaded with the nation to keep following mitigation measures and “just please hold on a little while longer.”
The U.S. trends are mirroring what’s happening in Europe, where nations are once again locking down amid a rapid increase in cases that is straining health care systems.