WASHINGTON, D.C. — Massive spring break crowds, states ending mask mandates, and the loosening of other COVID-19-related restrictions: all are playing a part in the country’s latest climb in COVID-19 cases.
“In fact, we have settled at a very high level of daily deaths, nearly 1,000, and now, we're starting to see cases go up again and starting to see hospital admissions go up again,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy. “This is deeply concerning because every time we've seen it in the past, it's led to another surge."
More than 30 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year. After cases declined in February, just in the past two weeks, there was a 20 percent jump in the daily number of COVID-19 cases, an average of 66,000 new cases every day.
“A fourth wave may be imminent,” said George Washington University’s Dr. Amanda Castel, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist.
Dr. Castel said spring break revelers, as well as gatherings and travel from the Easter and Passover holidays, could be tough on the nation’s COVID-19 response in the next few weeks, potentially spreading more mutations of the virus, known as variants.
“It's really important to note that we also do very limited surveillance for the variants in the United States. So, what we're seeing is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Castel said. “And we know that certain variants, like the U.K. variant, are more easily spread from person to person and may potentially lead to more severe infections.”
Beyond April looms another holiday, Memorial Day, that Dr. Castel says could lead to a potential uptick in COVID-19 cases and a possible fifth wave. She said what happens will depend on how many people get vaccinated by then.
“That's why it's so critical that we need to encourage people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, because we really are in a race, essentially, between the variants and vaccination," Dr. Castel explained.
It’s a race where the finish line hasn’t been crossed yet.