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CDC Director Says U.S. Could 'Completely Lose' Progress with COVID-19 as More Variants Continue to Spread

·3-min read

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to stay vigilant about COVID-19 safety precautions as more variants of the virus are spreading across the nation.

During a White House press briefing Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that the United States is at risk of losing its progress in fighting the pandemic due to the contagious variants and some communities rolling back prevention measures.

"Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," Walensky said. "These variants are a very real threat to our people and to our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close."

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The daily numbers of cases and deaths have risen about 2 percent more when compared with last week, now averaging about 67,000 cases and 2,000 American deaths per day, she said.

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"With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19," Walensky continued. "I understand the temptation to do this -- 70,000 cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago -- but we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths."

Walensky asked that the public continue to follow safety precautions as "we have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country."

"Please stay strong in your conviction, continue wearing your well-fitted mask and taking the other public health prevention actions that we know work," she said. "Ultimately, vaccination is what will bring us out of this pandemic. To get there, we need to vaccinate many more people."

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A recent study has found that the one of the contagious variants, the Brazil P.1 variant, has been able to infect some people who already recovered from COVID-19 in the Amazonian city of Manaus.

The P.1. variant likely started in Manaus in November and sparked a surge in COVID-19 cases, The New York Times reported. Research found that the variant came to the city partly because of an increased contagiousness.

Laboratory experiments suggest that the Brazil variant may weaken the protective effect of a Chinese vaccine currently being used in Brazil.

"The findings apply to Manaus, but I don't know if they apply to other places," Nuno Faria, a virologist who helped lead the research, told the Times.

While these findings may not apply to other parts of the world, William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the P.1 variant must be taken seriously.

"It's right to be worried about P.1, and this data gives us the reason why," he said.

According to the Times, the P.1. variant has already been identified across the rest of Brazil as well as in 24 other countries. In the U.S., the CDC has recorded six cases in five states, including Alaska, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.