CDC director sees 'a really hopeful decline' as Covid cases in the U.S. fall

After a worrisome uptick in Covid-19 cases in the United States in recent weeks, there are encouraging signs that the situation is beginning to stabilize, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing Tuesday that there have been declines across the board, with new cases, hospitalizations and daily deaths all falling over the past seven days.

New reported infections fell by 21 percent over the past week, with the most recent seven-day average coming in at just over 54,400 cases per day, Walensky said, calling the figure "a really hopeful decline." Hospitalizations also fell by 9 percent, with an average of more than 5,100 hospital admissions per day over the past seven days.

The most recent seven-day average for daily deaths stood at roughly 660 per day, representing a decline of 6 percent, she added.

Walensky said vaccine uptake across the country is likely fueling the turnaround and helping to flatten the curves.

"Each day more and more Americans are rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated, and likely contributing to these very positive trends," she said.

The CDC director's optimism during Tuesday's briefing stands in stark contrast to her remarks a month ago, when she warned of "impending doom" as Covid-19 cases rose steadily in the U.S. 

"I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director and not only 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," Walensky said in a briefing March 29. "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."

Parts of Michigan, Oregon, Texas and Virginia are still considered hot spots, but overall case numbers appear to be plateauing. The promising trends come as the CDC relaxed its guidance on wearing masks outdoors. The agency said outdoor activities are safe without masks if people are alone or with immediate family members and said fully vaccinated people can gather outdoors without masks in small groups.

Yet while the number of reported cases, hospitalizations and daily deaths are stabilizing, vaccination rates are falling. The number of vaccine doses administered daily rose steadily for weeks, peaking at at an average of 3.2 million doses earlier this month, but that number has since dropped. The most recent seven-day average for daily administered doses is just over 2.5 million, according to the CDC.

More than 140 million people in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine dose, according to an NBC News tally.

Combating hesitancy and improving access to vaccines across the country will be the next major hurdles for public health officials, Walensky said.

"One of the things that we need to look at is the lack of uniformity of vaccination rates across this country," she said, adding that different counties and states are administering shots at different rates. "Where we have low areas of vaccination, we are going to potentially see more outbreaks, which is why we have to be careful and we have to make sure that people get vaccinated in all corners and in all counties."

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