Biden calls for mask mandates, CDC director fears 'impending doom' from COVID surge

CHEYENNE HASLETT and STEPHANIE EBBS
·4 min read

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in an emotional plea Monday, said she feels a sense of "impeding doom" about another surge in COVID-19 cases as infections increased 10% and President Joe Biden called for a return of mask mandates.

"I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," Walensky said at a White House briefing. "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."

Walensky has repeatedly warned that the country would face another, avoidable surge in COVID-19 cases if Americans didn't keep wearing masks, avoid travel, and continue social distancing until more of the population is vaccinated.

PHOTO: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal COVID-19 response, on March 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal COVID-19 response, on March 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)

Not long after, Biden echoed her warning.

"I'm reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate – please," Biden said at an event announcing more vaccine eligibility. "This is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down. And businesses should require masks as well. The failure to take this virus seriously -- precisely what got us in this mess in the first place -- risks more cases and more desks -- deaths."

"We're in the life-and-death race for the virus that is spreading quickly, with cases rising again, new variants are spreading,” he said. “And, sadly, some of the reckless behavior we have seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead." He said he thought some states should pause their reopening efforts.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations and the response to the pandemic, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, March 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Evan Vucci/AP)
PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during an event on COVID-19 vaccinations and the response to the pandemic, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, March 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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Walensky said the CDC is now seeing the number of new COVID-19 cases and people hospitalized with the disease increase, which she attributed to increased travel in recent weeks, lifting restrictions, and more relaxed behavior.

The seven-day average of cases is slightly below 60,000 cases a day, a 10% increase over the previous period. Hospitalizations and deaths also have increased.

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Walensky said the CDC is investigating outbreaks at a local level in individual states. The largest increases have occurred in Michigan, Connecticut, North Dakota, New York, Iowa and Vermont.

"I think we are seeing that many of these states are opening up at levels that we wouldn't necessarily recommend. I am working with the governors. I will be speaking with them tomorrow to try and buckle down on trying to refrain from opening up too fast," she said.

Walensky reflected on her experience treating COVID-19 patients over the last year, saying she has been the last person to sit with someone's loved one when they were dying and knows the stress on healthcare providers not sure if they'll have the resources to treat every patient.

MORE: Fauci warns possible 4th surge in COVID-19 cases could undermine progress

And she said with the vaccination effort underway the end of the pandemic is within reach, but she said until more Americans are vaccinated everyone has to continue wearing masks, refrain from nonessential travel, and take steps to prevent more people from becoming sick. She warned another COVID-19 surge along the lines of last summer or the winter would slow down efforts to vaccinate more people.

"We have come such a long way. Three historic scientific breakthrough vaccines, and we are rolling them out so very fast. So I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director or not only as your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, to ask you to just please hold on for a little while longer," she said.

"I so badly want to be done, I know you all so badly want to be done, we're just almost there, but not quite yet. And so I'm asking you to just hold on a little longer to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love was still be here when this pandemic ends," she said.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.

Biden calls for mask mandates, CDC director fears 'impending doom' from COVID surge originally appeared on abcnews.go.com