‘Right now, I’m scared’: CDC director feels ‘impending doom’ amid COVID-19 uptick in US

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walenksy said Monday she feels "impending doom" as COVID-19 cases rise once again across the country.

Speaking at a White House coronavirus briefing Monday, Walensky, who has been warning of a potential new COVID-19 surge in the U.S. for weeks, said she sees signs that her prediction is coming to pass.

"I’m going to pause here. I’m going to lose the script and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," she said during the press briefing Monday. "We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared."

According to the CDC, the seven-day average for positive COVID-19 cases rose nearly 10.6% over the past week. The seven-day average for hospitalizations rose by 4.2% over the past week. The CDC also reported the seven-day COVID-19 death rate average has increased 2.6% over the past week.

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Vaccinations continue to ramp up across the country as well. The CDC reported that more than 51 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 15.5% of the total U.S. population.

The White House announced last week that Johnson & Johnson will deliver 11 million doses of its vaccine this week. Moderna on Monday announced the company has shipped the 100 millionth dose of its COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. In a statement, the company said it expects to deliver a second 100 million doses by the end of May and a third batch of 100 million doses by the end of July.

The two vaccines available since December — Pfizer and Moderna — were 90% effective after two doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday. In testing, the vaccines were about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Walensky had previously cautioned that despite the increase in vaccinations, some states and cities are easing restrictions too soon. Several states have lifted their mask mandates, including Texas and Mississippi. Major cities, including Los Angeles and New York, have partially reopened indoor dining and movie theatres with limited capacity.

A year after becoming a global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, New York and New Jersey are back atop the list of U.S. states with the highest rates of infection. Even as the vaccination campaign has ramped up, the number of new infections in New Jersey has crept up by 37% in a little more than a month, to about 23,600 every seven days. About 54,600 people in New York tested positive for the virus in the last week, a number that has begun to inch up recently.

The country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, echoed Walenksy’s sentiment.

"We really need to hold on to the public health measures as we get more and more people, from 2 to 3-plus million people, vaccinated every day," he said during Monday’s briefing.

Over the weekend, Fauci said there are a few reasons for the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.

"The variants are playing a part, but it’s not completely the variants, " Fauci told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. "What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’re seeing now."

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Health officials urge people to continue wearing their masks and stay socially distant. They also point to the rise of COVID-19 cases in parts of Europe as a warning to Americans.

Critical care doctors in Paris said surging coronavirus infections could soon overwhelm their ability to care for the sick in the French capital’s hospitals, possibly forcing them to choose which patients they have the resources to save.

Walensky’s latest comments came as scientists learn more about the origins of the novel coronavirus.

A joint World Health Organization-China study on the origins of COVID-19 said that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is "extremely unlikely," according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles. Kelly Hayes also contributed to this report.