Mass vaccinations and natural protection from those already infected are likely to prevent a fourth wave of Covid-19 in the United States, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday.
“We’re talking about some form of protective immunity in about 55% of the population,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “There’s enough of a backstop here that I don’t think you’re going to see a fourth surge.”
About 81 million people have had at least one dose of a vaccine, a number that is going up significantly every day. In addition, about 29 million people have tested positive for the virus and recovered, and tens of millions more have had Covid-19 without a positive test and have some natural immunity.
Still, the US will continue to see Covid-19 cases and deaths, Gottlieb cautioned, particularly as a dangerous variant first identified in the United Kingdom spreads.
“I think what you could see is a plateauing for a period of time before we continue on a downward decline – in large part because (the UK variant) is becoming more prevalent, in large part because we’re pulling back too quickly, with respect to taking off our masks and lifting the mitigation,” he said.
Gottlieb also warned that the emergence of virus variants could change the nation’s trajectory.
“The only thing that can be a real game changer here is if you have a variant that pierces prior immunity, meaning it reinfects people who’ve either already been infected or who have been vaccinated,” he said.
Gottlieb’s comments come as the number of US Covid-19 cases has plateaued at about 50,000 new cases per day over the last seven days. Several experts have warned of another surge as the US races to vaccinate and stay ahead of the variant.
“This is crunch time,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Saturday. “This is going to be our most difficult period right now in terms of seeing who wins out.”
With about a quarter of all Americans having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine – and about 13% fully vaccinated – doubling down on safety measures now is what could help curb another surge, experts have repeatedly stressed.
“If we can hang on another month, another six weeks, that’s going to make a huge difference,” Hotez added.
However, air travel is hitting pandemic-era records and spring break crowds are swelling. In Miami Beach, officials declared a state of emergency Saturday in response to crowds the mayor says have been “more than we can handle.”
Michigan cases and hospitalizations climbing
In Michigan, where the governor announced a series of eased restrictions earlier this month, officials now say the state could potentially be at the start of another surge.
“Our progress with Covid-19 is fragile,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the state of Michigan, said in a news conference Friday. “While we’re making great progress with our vaccination efforts and many people are doing the right thing by wearing masks and not gathering in large groups, what we are seeing now is very concerning data that shows that we are going in the wrong direction.”
Case rates have been increasing for the past month, Khaldun said, and increased 77% since mid-February.
The state’s percent of Covid-19 tests that are positive have also jumped 177% since mid-February, Khaldun said. And hospitalization rates have also been climbing for the past two weeks, Khaldun added.
Michigan has also reported the country’s second-highest number of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, after Florida, according to CDC data.
“It’s immensely concerning,” Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in the state, told CNN Saturday. “We know in the past, cases went up, then hospitalizations, then deaths followed.”
Davidson told CNN he’s even more worried now that variants are circulating, and hopes the state can make enough headway to protect residents.
“It remains to be seen,” Davidson said. “We just would rather not wait and find out. We’d rather get people to mask up, keep distancing and get those numbers down.”
Political divide in vaccinations
More than 44 million Americans are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
The growing numbers are encouraging, but ex