Enlarge /. A sign that requires protective face masks on Sunday March 21, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.
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Even as the US vaccination rate approaches nearly 3 million a day, the country is on the verge of a fourth surge, with current cases at "worryingly high levels" according to leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.
The current 7-day average of the new daily cases is now over 63,000 – values at the base of the record winter increase. "If you are at that level, there is a risk that you will experience a spike again," Fauci said in an interview with CNN.
In addition to the precarious situation, there is also the highly transmissible coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which was identified for the first time in Great Britain. It is now the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the US, Rochelle Walensky (director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said in a White House press conference Wednesday.
"These trends point to two clear truths," said Walensky. "First, the virus has still held us – infecting people and putting them at risk – and we must remain vigilant. Second, we must continue to accelerate our vaccination efforts."
Now many experts see Michigan as the potential basis for the fate of the rest of the country. As the variant spreads there, the state is seeing an increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that rival the winter summit numbers. Variant B.1.1.7 was discovered in 46 of the state's 83 counties.
Michigan case rates have increased 375 percent since the February 19 low, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a recent data update. According to the CDC, the state has a 7-day fall rate of 492 per 100,000 people, the highest case rate in the country. Next up is New Jersey, with a 7-day fall rate of 328 per 100,000.
Michigan has seen nearly 50,000 cases in the past seven days, including the highest in the country. According to the New York Times, the seven-day moving average is around 7,000 new cases per day, an 89 percent increase over the previous week.
The number of hospitalizations in the state is over 3,000, up 124 percent from two weeks ago, and the number of patients filling intensive care units only rose 41 percent last week, according to MDHHS. State forecasts assume that intensive care unit use will be above the winter peak by Monday, April 12. MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel told reporters on Wednesday that hospitals are currently reviewing the implementation of their surge plans.
The death toll is now also rising, averaging 36 deaths per day. Since the March 9 low, deaths in the state have risen 75 percent.
The CDC has deployed teams of its public health workers to help with the nationwide wave. "We are working closely with the state of Michigan and the local health authorities," said Walensky on Wednesday. The CDC is helping investigate outbreaks in correctional facilities and youth sports teams. It is also working to monitor the spread of B.1.1.7 and to shift the state's vaccine supplies to the hardest hit areas.
Some experts have questioned whether the Biden government should send the state a surge of vaccines to try to prevent the variant and the surge in certain cases. Currently, the federal government is largely distributing the doses on the basis of the population of each state and jurisdiction. But last month, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked for an increase in the bid to stave off the surge in the state. However, the White House denied the request, according to the Washington Post.
In Wednesday's press conference, Andy Slavitt, a senior White House advisor on the pandemic, told reporters that the government is currently largely sticking to its population-based distribution plan.
"We still have a long way to go today to get the country to a place where each of our states has reached the number of vaccinations that the population can handle," Slavitt said. “We are clearly going to get to a place where targeted strategies work. But now I would oblige you to do both. "