Health officials took a noticeably gloomier tone during the COVID-19 briefing at the White House on Monday, as they emphasized concerns about still high death rates, even as the number of cases and hospitalizations continue to decline. There were an average of 3,221 deaths per day from Jan.31 to Feb.6, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This takes into account 1,570 deaths reported last week from an anonymous status that actually occurred in the last few months. About 83,000 people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized.
“Although hospital admissions and cases are steadily declining, I ask everyone to please keep your guard up,” he said during the briefing. “The continued proliferation of variants remains of great concern and is a threat that could reverse the recent positive trend that we are seeing.” Read more about the numbers in MarketWatch’s February 8 coronavirus update. Here are the other key takeaways: • At least 690 people in 34 states tested positive for variant B.1.1.7, a more infectious strain that was first detected by British health. authorities, according to the CDC. The public health agency previously said that it expects this variant to become the most dominant form of the virus in the US by the end of March. • The use of genomic sequencing to identify new variants has increased tenfold in the last three weeks, according to Walensky. The United States has followed other countries in their sequencing efforts for SARS-CoV-2. • Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, downplayed the idea that second doses of BioNTech SE BNTX, + 2.05% / Pfizer Inc. PFE, -0.38% and Moderna Inc. MRNA, + 5.87% should be vaccines instead, administered as first doses to more people. The second dose, he said, helps expand the breadth of protection provided by the vaccines to include the B.1.1.7 and B.1.251 variants. “By response breadth, we mean that it covers, not just the wild-type virus and the one currently circulating, but also the variants that we see circulating,” he said. • And one last word about travel: avoid it. “It would really encourage people not to travel,” Walensky said, in response to a reporter’s question about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s comments to Axios that the CDC may require a negative COVID-19 test for fly in the country. • What to look for this week: The CDC is expected to release a guide on schools. The next COVID-19 Response Team briefing is scheduled for Wednesday, February 10 at 11 am ET.