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'Fatigue is winning,' CDC warns as pandemic restrictions are lifted across the nation

·Senior White House Correspondent
·3 min read
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WASHINGTON — The American people are ready for spring. And the coronavirus may be ready for a spring surge.

With those two realities on a seeming collision course, the Biden administration is warning that plenty of challenges remain in the weeks and months ahead, even as it announced new efforts to vaccinate vulnerable seniors and accelerate vaccine production overall.

“Stamina has worn thin,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing Wednesday morning. “Fatigue is winning, and the exact measures we have taken to stop the pandemic are now too often being flagrantly ignored.”

Relieving that fatigue has become a major concern for the Biden administration. Speaking from the White House the previous day, the president announced that all teachers should be vaccinated by the end of March and there would be enough vaccine doses available for every American adult by May.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky warns that fatigue is setting in amongst the general public when it comes to combatting the coronavirus. (Susan Walsh/AP)
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warns that fatigue is setting in among the public when it comes to combating the coronavirus. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The race to achieve herd immunity, however, is running up against new variants of the coronavirus now proliferating rapidly across the United States. Those variants tend to spread more quickly than previous strains of SARS-CoV-2, as the coronavirus is officially called. And vaccines appear to be somewhat less effective against these new strains.

“So much can turn in the next few weeks,” Walensky said. The winter surge appears to be over, but the new variants have contributed to what she described as “troubling signs of the trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S.,” with 66,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths per day across the nation.

That is a vantage point from which the coronavirus has “potential to resurge,” the CDC director said, expressing particular concern about the B.1.1.7 variant, which she described as “ready to hijack our success.” There are also strains that originated in New York City, Brazil and South Africa wending their way through the American population.

These developments come as Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, ended its mask mandate and allowed businesses to reopen fully. “People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, said on Tuesday. More than 44,000 people have died from COVID-19 across Texas.

Texas governor Greg Abbott ended on Tuesday both a statewide mask mandate and pandemic-related limits on how business can operate. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday ended a statewide mask mandate and allowed businesses to reopen fully. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports via Reuters)

Mississippi took similar steps on Tuesday, ending both a statewide mask mandate and pandemic-related limits on how businesses can operate. “The governor’s office is getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do,” Gov. Tate Reeves, also a Republican, said.

Biden himself has avoided getting into feuds with Republican governors who have tried to bait him into a pandemic culture war, as when Ron DeSantis of Florida branded him a “lockdowner.”

Walensky, the CDC director, has been more outspoken about what she sees as the dangers of the rush to reopen. On Monday, she described herself as “worried” about the lifting of public-health measures at a time when she and others have argued that measures should be reinforced.

On Wednesday, she appealed directly to Texans: “Every individual is empowered to do the right thing here, regardless of what the states decide.”

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