CDC Director: 'Variants Are a Wild Card That Could Reverse...Progress'

By Susan Jones | May 6, 2021 | 11:33am EDT
(Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

( - The number of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline in the United States, but "variants are a wild card that could reverse this progress we have made and could set us back," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference on Wednesday.

First, a look at the numbers:

On Wednesday, said Walensky, CDC reported around 32,000 new cases of COVID-19, down from the seven-day average of 48,000 cases. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is now around 3,900; and the seven-day average of COVID deaths "also declined to a new low of 400 a day," she said.

"Although we are seeing progress in terms of decreased cases, hospitalizations and deaths, variants are a wild card that could reverse this progress we have made and could set us back," Walensky said. "Simply put, the sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal."

Walensky said she's often asked when the pandemic will be over and when life can return to normal:

"The reality is, it all depends on the actions we take now," she said.

Walensky pointed to a newly published CDC article showing various scenarios of what may happen with cases, hospitalizations and deaths, depending on how many people get vaccinated and continue to follow prevention measures:

"The team looked at four scenarios, each with different assumptions about vaccination coverage, combined with other strategies to prevent spread of COVID-19 such as physical distancing, masking, isolation and quarantine," Walensky said:

In good news, the models projected a sharp decline in cases by July 2021 -- and an even faster decline if more people get vaccinated sooner. The results remind us that we have the path out of this, and models once projecting really grim news -- now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring.

And the models give us an important reminder -- they project that local conditions and emerging variants are putting many states at risk for increases in COVID-19 cases, especially if we do not increase the rate of vaccinations and if we do not keep our current mitigation strategies in place until we have a critical mass of people vaccinated...

...What we learned from this report is that we are not out of the woods yet, but we could be very close.

Variants and vaccines

At the same news conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, talked about the COVID variants and the effectiveness of vaccines in protecting against those:

-- UK-117: Vaccines used in U.S. "are really quite effective in protection against that variant," Fauci said.

-- South Africa-351: U.S. vaccines offer less efficacy, but still "a certain degree of protection."

-- California, New York variants: Test tube results indicate "that likely the vaccines will protect reasonably well."

Then there's the variant found in India -- number 617: "We are collecting data right now in real time and hopefully within the next several days to a week, we'll be able to make a determination as to what the effect of antibodies induced by our vaccines are against that particular variant," Fauci said.

"So, again, a number of variants, different answers to each variant."

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