“It’s what we’re doing right: staying apart, wearing masks, not traveling, not mixing with others indoors,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday.
But that doesn’t mean the US is in the clear.
“We’ve had three surges,” Frieden added. “Whether or not we have a fourth surge is up to us, and the stakes couldn’t be higher — not only in the number of people who could die in the fourth surge, but also in the risk that even more dangerous variants will emerge if there’s more uncontrolled spread.”
“It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told NBC on Sunday. “If we want to get our children back to school, and I believe we all do, it all depends on how much community spread is out there.”
“We need to all take responsibility to decrease that community spread, including mask wearing, so that we can get our kids and our society back,” the director added.
Homegrown Covid-19 variants spotted in US
Among the most concerning Covid-19 strains that has been detected in the US is the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first spotted in the UK. More than 1,100 cases of the variant have been reported across 39 states — with roughly a third of the cases reported in Florida, according to data from the CDC.
The US has also reported at least 17 cases of a strain initially seen in South Africa and at least two cases of another strain, this one first linked to Brazil.
States still struggle with vaccine supply
Public health experts say the US is now in a race against time to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before the variants continue to spread and mutate further.
But while states ramp up their vaccinations, challenges remain — including supply shortages.
In San Francisco, officials announced that a high-volume vaccination site will pause for a week and will reopen “once supply is sufficient to resume operations.” A second high-volume site expects to resume vaccinations Friday — but only for second doses. A third high-volume vaccine site is set to launch this week, officials said, but “with available appointments far below full capacity.”
“The vaccine supply coming to San Francisco’s healthcare providers and the Department of Public Health (DPH) is limited, inconsistent, and unpredictable, making vaccine roll out difficult and denying San Franciscans this potentially life-saving intervention,” officials said in a news release Sunday.
“The City has the capacity to administer more than 10,000 vaccines per day but lack the vaccine supply,” they added.
“We are monitoring the distribution of doses closely and making adjustments as needed,” Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said in a statement. “While the limited availability of first doses will be challenging this coming week, focusing on second doses will help pave the way for an improved and more sustainable allocation of vaccines in future weeks.”
The two states are far from alone in their struggles. Officials have said supply will likely remain a challenge for a while, and experts say vaccines will likely not be widely available to the American public until late spring or summer.
Walensky, the CDC director, told Fox News on Sunday she anticipates that “by the end of the summer, we will have enough vaccine in order to vaccinate the entire US population that is eligible.”
Expert: Teacher vaccinations ‘essential’ for school reopening
Meanwhile, among the central questions about vaccinations right now is when educators across the country will be able to get their shots.
The agency’s guidelines did not list vaccination as a “key” strategy for opening schools, focusing instead on measures like masks and physical distancing among others. Vaccinations for staff and teachers are “an additional layer of protection,” Walensky previously said.
On Sunday, Walensky told CNN that while vaccination for teachers is not a prerequisite for reopening schools, current CDC guidance does specify that those who are at higher risk should have virtual options.
“I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccinations, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen,” she said.
But Wen called teacher vaccinations “essential.”
“If we want students to be in school for in-person learning, the least that we can do is to protect the health and well-being of our teachers — especially as in so many parts of the country, teachers are already being made to go back to school in poorly-ventilated, cramped areas, with many students who may not always be masking and practicing physical distancing,” Wen said.
CNN’s Keith Allen, Ben Tinker, Michael Nedelman, Maggie Fox and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.