The head of the federal Centers for Disease Control warned against states rolling back COVID-19 business restrictions amid sluggish vaccine efforts and the growing presence of newer, more highly infectious variants.
“These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a March 1 White House press briefing. “Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
Last month, New Jersey expanded indoor dining capacity from 25% to 35%, which was also extended to indoor businesses such as casinos, salons and gyms. And the state began to allow sports stadiums to reopen at an extremely reduced capacity.
He and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, during such a briefing on March 1, said they expect the new variants and their growing foothold in the state to drive up daily cases and hospitalizations.
“I would bet we will see cases creep up a bit, and hospitalizations,” because of these new variants, Persichilli said.
Added Murphy, “I’ll bet a buck that cases go up as a percentage more than hospitalizations.”
Public health officials have for weeks warned that a U.K. variant, known as B117, has gained a foothold in the state. And a “New York City variant,” Murphy said, has almost certainly found its way into New Jersey.
Variants occur when a virus mutates, which comprises the normal lifespan of any given microbe, COVID-19 or not.
“I think the thing that everybody has to understand is that viruses mutate, they mutate a lot. So there’s a lot of variants and there will be a lot of variants for SARS-Cov2,” Persichilli said.
Those vaccine efforts, including those from drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and Merck, are key to relaxing the myriad of restrictions in place.
“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky added. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”