U.S. surpasses 550,000 deaths as CDC director warns of ‘impending doom’

Biden: 90% of U.S. adults will be vaccine eligible in 3 weeks

The United States has surpassed 550,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As of 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the death toll was 550,036, Johns Hopkins reported. The U.S. has reported more than 30.3 million cases.

The director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Monday morning of “impending doom” as new daily cases of the coronavirus are rising.

On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told a reporter “right now, I’m scared,” and that she will “reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom” over the rise in the number of cases.

On Friday, Walensky said she was “deeply concerned” over recent COVID case upswings.

“We know from prior surges that if we don’t control things now, there is a real potential for the epidemic curve to soar again,” said Walensky, who added the most recent seven-day average of COVID cases was about 57,000 cases per day, an increase of 7% from the previous week.

The U.S. has reported more than 80,000 new cases in recent days, which are the highest since mid-February, according to Johns Hopkins.

President Joe Biden said 90% of U.S. adults will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine in three weeks. Biden also announced his administration will more than double the number of pharmacies where shots are available.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci blamed “premature” reopening measures throughout the U.S., along with COVID-19 variants, for the spike in coronavirus cases.

“I’ve said many times … that when you’re coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you’re really in danger of a surge coming up,” Fauci, who is Biden’s top health adviser, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And, unfortunately, that’s what we’re starting to see.”

He compared the situation in the U.S. to conditions in Europe.

“Several of the countries in the European Union ... they plateaued and then started to come back,” Fauci said.

Virulent new strains of the coronavirus only partially account for the surges, he added. “What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen,” he said. “I believe it’s premature.”

Fauci also cautioned against air travel, even with passengers wearing masks.

“When you get to the airport, the check-in lines, the food lines for restaurants, the boarding that you see, how people sometimes can be congregating together — those are the kind of things that invariably increase the risk of getting infected,” he said.

Also Friday, the CDC said it intends to continue preventing cruises from operating in U.S. ports for the foreseeable future.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and the cruise industry lobbying group CLIA are pressuring the CDC to allow U.S. cruises as soon as July 1. But the agency is not budging on its “conditional sail order,” which gives cruise companies a long list of requirements they must meet before being allowed to restart.

The government officials say the conditional sail order, first issued by the CDC in October and in place until November 2021, is outdated and unnecessary now that several COVID-19 vaccines are available.

“I urge the CDC to immediately rescind this baseless no-sail order to allow Floridians in this industry to get back to work,” DeSantis said at a news conference Friday at Port Canaveral.

He joins Levine Cava, who sent a letter to Walensky last week, saying she would welcome guidance from the CDC allowing cruises by July for only vaccinated passengers and crew. About 60,000 South Floridians work directly or indirectly for the cruise industry.

Earlier this month, CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey said a majority, but not all, of the six cruise companies with ships in U.S. waters had complied with the first phase of the order: test all crew members for COVID-19 weekly and report results to the agency.

In response to Cruise Lines International Association’s public demands Thursday that the conditional sail order be lifted, Shockey said the order remains in effect.

The CDC first banned cruises in U.S. waters in March 2020 amid COVID-19 outbreaks on multiple ships. After extensive lobbying from the industry, it lifted its no-sail order on Oct. 30, replacing it with the conditional sail order. In November, the CDC added instructions for lab testing, and in December it expanded the list of tests cruise companies can use.

Since then, crew members have continued to test positive for the virus at sea. Thirty-three cruise ships in U.S. waters have reported crew members testing positive for COVID-19 or having COVID-like illness (clinically compatible without laboratory confirmation) since the start of the year, according to CDC documents obtained by the Miami Herald.

In a statement Thursday, CLIA, the cruise industry’s lobbying group, urged the CDC to allow cruising by July, noting that cruises have long resumed in other parts of the world including Singapore, China and Italy, hosting nearly 400,000 passengers since the pandemic began with minimal COVID-19 outbreaks.

“This is a testament to the industry’s unparalleled expertise, gained over more than half a century, in coordinating movements of guests and crew, efficiently organizing complex embarkations and excursions, and designing vessels that are more technologically advanced and operationally agile than any other mode of transportation,” said Kelly Craighead, the group’s CEO, in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.