"Impending doom": Emotional CDC chief fears new wave amid 10% rise in cases in the U.S.

"Impending doom": Emotional CDC chief fears new wave amid 10% rise in cases in the U.S.

Cases are up 10 percent over the past week and 15 percent over the last two weeks, according to the Times. The national positivity rate is still low at 4.6 percent, but that’s up from 3.9 percent a week or two ago. The trends are in the wrong direction.

Still, I’m not sure how to feel about Walensky’s plea. On the one hand, you don’t want your public-health brain trust fearmongering, and this is an unusually blatant form. “Doom” is an especially strong word given how much immunity now exists within the population.

On the other hand, it’ll get attention. If you want to shake people out of their complacency about the state of the pandemic, cable-ready news footage of the head of the CDC with a quaver in her voice is an efficient way to do it. Watch, then read on.

The two states showing the most concerning spikes have something in common. Actually, three things in common. You’ve heard about the surge in Michigan

…but look what’s happening in New York:

What are the similarities between those two states? First, they’ve both reopened businesses recently. Gretchen Whitmer and Andrew Cuomo each capitalized on falling case counts after the winter surge to relax restrictions locally, and optimism about the vaccines and the looming end of the pandemic has made people more willing to travel. The increase in public interactions seems to have seeded new outbreaks.

Second, they’re both struggling with variants. Michigan has the second-most confirmed cases of the British strain after Florida while New York has a homegrown strain of its very own. The good news is that the existing vaccines seem to work on both: We’ve known for awhile that they’re effective against the UK variant but new research indicates they can cope with New York’s variant too, although with less efficacy than usual. Still, most of the public in both states has yet to be vaccinated. That’s a lot of dry tinder for highly contagious variants to burn through.

Third, they’re both northern states. I pointed out on Friday in a post about Texas’s falling case counts that America seems to have two different pandemics right now, one where the weather is still brisk and the other where it’s warm and people are spending more time outdoors. The Times’s tracker of states where cases are high and staying high lists 27 states and nearly all of them are in the northern half of the country. Florida is a notable exception, again probably because of the British variant.

The last point raises a tricky question. If northern states are suffering more, should we reallocate more vaccines to them instead of sticking with the current plan of allocating based on population? Obviously, if you do that you’re sacrificing some southerners who’d otherwise be entitled to near-term access and will end up getting infected and dying in the meantime. But you’ll save more people in the aggregate with reallocation, as there’s more virus spreading in the north right now. Here’s Scott Gottlieb making the case for reallocation. If you’re battling a fire, you focus your attention first on where it’s raging out of control, right?

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