CDC Director Says She Has a Sense of ‘Impending Doom’ About Fourth COVID Wave: ‘I’m Scared’

Although vaccinations are on the rise, health officials are concerned about a possible fourth COVID-19 wave in the United States as cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase.

During a White House briefing on Monday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky delivered an "off-script" message, noting that while there's "so much reason for hope" right now, several "disturbing trends" have left her feeling "scared."

As she began her remarks, Walensky noted that over the past week there's been a 10 percent increase in new cases as compared to the previous seven-day period, and that hospitalizations have also increased.

Meanwhile deaths, which "typically lag behind cases and hospitalizations" have also started to rise, "increasing nearly three percent" from the previous time period.

Acknowledging that many people are looking forward to being able to put the pandemic behind them, Walensky cautioned that we're "almost there, but not quite yet."

"When I first started at CDC about two months ago, I made a promise to you. I would tell you the truth, even if it was not the news you wanted to hear. Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth and I have to hope and trust that you will listen," she said. "I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. 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." 

"We have come such a long way. Three historic scientific breakthrough vaccines and we are rolling them out so fast. I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC Director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer," she continued. "I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet."

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Walensky went on to point out that several European countries have already experienced a "consistent and worrying spike in cases."

"The trajectory of the pandemic in the United States looks similar to many countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy and France," she said.  

However, Walensky stressed that it's still possible to "prevent a fourth surge" in the U.S. so long as people continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and get vaccinated when they are eligible. 

"We are not powerless. We can change this trajectory of the pandemic but it will take all of us re-committing to following the public health prevention strategies consistently while we work to get the American public vaccinated," she said. "We do not have the luxury of inaction. For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge." 

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Over the weekend, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed to a number of factors behind the rise in U.S. cases.  

"Variants we take seriously and are concerned, but it is not only the variants that are doing that," Fauci said on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday. "What we're likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you've seen. Now, several states have done that." 

"Even if on the planes people are wearing masks, when you get to the airport, the check-in lines, the food lines for restaurants, the boarding that you see, how people sometimes can be congregating together, those are the kind of things that invariably increase the risk of getting infected," he added. 

As of Monday afternoon, there have been over 30.2 million COVID-19 cases and 548,867 deaths in the United States, according to a New York Times database.

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 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. 

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