President Biden, facing a rise in coronavirus cases around the country, called on Monday for governors and mayors to reinstate mask mandates as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth surge of the pandemic.
The president’s comments came only hours after the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appeared to fight back tears as she pleaded with Americans to “hold on a little while longer” and continue following public health advice, like wearing masks and social distancing, to curb the virus’ spread. The nation has “so much reason for hope,” she added.
“But right now,” she said, “I’m scared.”
The back-to-back appeals reflected a growing sense of urgency among top White House officials and government scientists that the chance to conquer the pandemic, now in its second year, may slip through its grasp. According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new virus cases as of Sunday was about 63,000, a level comparable with late October’s average. That was up from 54,000 a day two weeks earlier, an increase of more than 16 percent.
Public health experts say that the nation is in a race between the vaccination campaign and new, worrisome coronavirus variants, including B.1.1.7, a more transmissible and possibly more lethal version of the virus that has been spreading rapidly. While more than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, the nation is a long way away from reaching so-called herd immunity — the tipping point that comes when spread of a virus begins to slow because so many people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.
The warnings of peril come at the same time as some promising news: A C.D.C. report released Monday confirmed the findings of last year’s clinical trials that vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer were highly effective against Covid-19. The report documented that the vaccines work to prevent both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections “in real-world conditions.”
The seven-day average of vaccines administered hit 2.76 million on Monday, an increase over the pace the previous week, according to data reported by the C.D.C. On Sunday alone, nearly 3.3. million people were inoculated, said Andy Slavitt, a senior White House pandemic adviser.
Mr. Biden said on Monday that the administration was taking steps to expand vaccine eligibility and access, including opening a dozen new mass vaccination centers. He directed his coronavirus response team to ensure that 90 percent of Americans would be no farther than five miles from a vaccination site by April 19.