Surgeon general worries about complacency on Covid-19 as cases surge and vaccinations lag

Originally Published: 16 AUG 21 01:57 ET
Updated: 16 AUG 21 09:41 ET

    (CNN) -- With the outlook of the Covid-19 pandemic growing worse as hospitalizations and cases surge among the unvaccinated, the surgeon general said many of those who have followed precautions may soon grow complacent due to fatigue.

"I do think that many of those who did make that right decision to get vaccinated, are thinking, 'Gosh, I did the right thing but here we are, still in the middle of this pandemic 18 months later,'" Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN's Brian Stelter Sunday.

"We get through this pandemic when a critical majority of us get vaccinated, and we haven't hit that critical number yet," Murthy said.

As of Sunday, 50.7% of the total US population was fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and with just under half of the country still unvaccinated, cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again.

Cases are surging in 40 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Soon, the US could be reporting more than 200,000 new cases a day, the director of the National Institutes of Health predicted Sunday. That's a rate not seen since before vaccines became widely available.

"That's heartbreaking considering we never thought we would be back in that space again," Dr. Francis Collins said on Fox News.

Murthy is especially worried about parents who have been working hard to protect their children as the nation grapples with the pandemic. That fear is especially pressing as more children are being hospitalized with the virus, like Kyle Butrum's one-year-old son, Carter, in Arkansas.

Butrum urged people to get vaccinated so other families don't have to watch their child struggle in the hospital.

"The only thing you can do to prevent someone else from doing this is to get your vaccine, so that another child doesn't have to do this, and another family doesn't have to send their kid away. So another father doesn't have to stand at the back of the ambulance and wonder if that's the last time you're going to see your son," Butrum told CNN.

With the rise of Delta variant and the start of the new school year, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen said this is the most dangerous time in the pandemic for children.

Experts have shared the best practices to keep families safe, but "we as a society have failed our children," Wen said, citing the swathes of people navigating communities unmasked and unvaccinated and politicians disregarding the guidance.

"As a result, we have made it harder for schools to stay open, we have made it more likely for children to be infected," Wen said. "This is a really sad reflection that children are having to pay the price for irresponsible adults and reckless politicians."

Officials at odds over masking

Many health experts have pointed to mask mandates as a necessary step to getting the pandemic under control as officials work to boost vaccination rates, but some local leaders are increasingly at odds over such mandates.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton took the fight against mask mandates in his state to the Texas Supreme Court after various defeats in lower courts.

The state Supreme Court ruled Sunday in favor of Paxton and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, temporarily blocking local mask mandates, but officials in Dallas and San Antonio said they would continue to enforce school mask mandates, despite the court ruling.

Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were the recipients of letters from the Department of Education in which Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he is "deeply concerned" over mask mandate restrictions.

"The Department recognizes that several school districts in your State have already moved to adopt such policies in line with guidance from the CDC for the reopening and operation of school facilities despite the State level prohibitions. The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," Cardona wrote in the letter to DeSantis, which was also addressed to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

In May, DeSantis issued two executive orders limiting the Covid-19 restrictions counties and cities could impose, including mask mandates, and has since threatened punitive measures should a county or city defy them.

In an email to CNN Sunday, a spokesperson for DeSantis reiterated the governor's position that his ban on school mask mandates is about empowering parents to make the best choice for their child and family.

The Broward County School Board chair criticized DeSantis Sunday over his position on school mask mandates.

"We believe we have a constitutional obligation to protect the lives of our students and staff. And we've received threats from our governor, and it's been really, really dramatic and horrible to be put in this position," Dr. Rosalind Osgood said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Health officials monitoring data on additional vaccine doses

Another layer of protection some health experts are considering is booster doses to increase vaccine efficacy.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized an additional vaccine dose for certain immunocompromised people, which Wen told CNN's Kaitlan Collin was a good decision for a group that "clearly needs a booster because they didn't mount enough of an immune response the first time around."

What health officials aren't in agreement on just yet is whether the rest of the population could benefit from a booster dose.

Israel has already advised an additional dose for people over 50, something the US cannot yet do because there's less data collection, Wen said. So, she hopes officials make a concerted effort to examine other countries' data in addition to that from the US to make the decision.

Wen noted there are a lot of people who may not be severely immunocompromised but "may have some degree of immunocompromise and may be in high-risk conditions, for example they live with somebody unvaccinated, they are essential workers, maybe they should be getting a booster as well."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday the US is planning for the possibility of booster shots and will be "absolutely prepared" to act quickly if they're needed for some groups.

Fauci said on CBS' Face the Nation officials are looking every day at data from the United States and other countries "to determine if, when and to whom we should be giving this. So if it turns out, as the data come in, we see we do need to give an additional dose to people in nursing homes, actually, or people who are elderly, we will be absolutely prepared to do that very quickly."

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