Health officials took a noticeably more somber tone during Monday’s White House COVID-19 briefing as they emphasized concern about still-high rates of deaths even as case numbers and hospitalizations continue to fall.
There were an average of 3,221 deaths per day from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6., said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. This takes into account 1,570 deaths reported last week by one unnamed state that had actually occurred over the last several months. About 83,000 people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized.
“Although hospital admissions and cases are consistently dropping, I’m asking everyone to please keep your guard up,” she said, during the briefing. “The continued proliferation of variants remains of grave concern and is a threat that could reverse the recent trend positive trends we are seeing.”
Here are the other key takeaways:
• At least 690 people in 34 states have tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant, a more infectious strain that was first detected by British health authorities, according to the CDC. The public-health agency previously said it expects this variant to become the most dominant form of the virus in the U.S. by the end of March.
• The use of genomic sequencing to identify the new variants has increased 10-fold over the past three weeks, according to Walensky. The U.S. has trailed other countries in its sequencing efforts for SARS-CoV-2.
• Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, downplayed the idea that second doses of the BioNTech SE BNTX, +1.95% /Pfizer Inc. PFE, -0.39% and Moderna Inc. MRNA, +5.83% vaccines should be instead given as first doses to more people. The second dose, he said, helps expand the breadth of protection provided by the vaccines to include the B.1.1.7 and B.1.251 variants. “By breadth of response, we mean it covers, not only the wild type and currently circulating virus, but also the variants that we see circulating,” he said.
• And a final word on travel: Avoid it. “I would really encourage people to not travel,” Walensky said, in response to a reporter’s question about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s comments to Axios about the CDC possibly requiring a negative COVID-19 test to fly domestically.
• What to look out for this week: The CDC is expected to release guidance about schools.
The next COVID-19 Response Team briefing is set to be held Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 11 a.m. ET.