Despite the U.S. vaccine rollout improving significantly, the daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is on the rise yet again after dropping precipitously from January highs.
The latest 7-day moving average of confirmed cases was at 60,425 on March 27, and the U.S. is continuing to see an average of roughly 50,000 new cases a day.
And according to Dr. Calvin Sun, an NYC-based emergency medicine physician, there are three main factors driving this recent uptick: the virus mutating, the rolling back of safety measures, and the recent increase in travel.
“One is the variants,” Sun said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “People are getting reinfected again. Do you know how many times I’ve been hearing ‘not again’?”
A recent study found that less than 1% of adults report getting reinfected with the virus. But for those who do get reinfected, they could experience more severe symptoms the second time around if they're positive for one of the several variants (mutant strains).
The second reason for the surge in cases "is a half-hearted response,” Sun said. “Mask mandates only do so much. Not all businesses are forcing it, and only half of them are or three-quarters. That’s like only vaccinating 80% of the population. That 20% is going to get reinfected, create a new variant, recombination, and then we have to start all over again. Not all of us are safe until everybody is safe.”
Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia, and Connecticut all rolled back restrictions like mask mandates and indoor capacity limits within the last month. (Other states like Georgia and Alaska never had mask mandates to begin with.) As restrictions ease, Connecticut is among the top five in terms of most daily cases per capita.
'When something bad happens, that's on you'
The third factor in the recent rise in cases, according to Sun, is people traveling a lot more.
“Most of the people I’ve been telling are positive since last Thursday and Friday [have said] ‘I was on a plane,'" Sun said. "Where did you come from? And it’s usually one of four or five states.”
As more places roll back their restrictions, the number of travelers has increased substantially.
The CDC still recommends not traveling, both domestically and internationally. Nevertheless, the latest TSA data showed that 1,406,234 traveled in the U.S. on Monday, one of the highest numbers since the pandemic began.
“That’s a decision they have to live with,” Sun said. “I always tell them you can do whatever you want. No one is forcing you to stay home. No one is forcing you to quarantine. That is based on your ethical guidelines and what you feel is right or wrong but when something bad happens, that’s on you when you infect other people.”
This becomes an issue, Sun said, because people don’t realize how even the most simple actions they take can put others at risk.
“You have blind spots,” Sun said. “There’s no way you would know particularly who you are infecting. You cough or sneeze in the air and leave that place, the virus can live in the air for minutes to hours. People can just walk through it through a revolving door and inhale everything you sneeze or vice versa. People don’t have the ability to see beyond themselves, especially when they’re afraid during a pandemic because they’re so hyperfocused on self-preservation.”
“I get that feeling,” he continued, “but unfortunately, we’re in a place where we have to look out for one another and help one another because that’s the only way we can beat this is by working together. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Sun compared the approach to COVID-19 to how people are with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
“The safest thing is abstinence — not going out at all,” he said, “but that’s not practical for most people so then we encourage protection wisely. Don’t wear your mask underneath your nose. That’s not wearing correctly and of course you’re going to have consequences when you don’t do things correctly, half heartedly.”
'Right now I'm scared'
There are still many Americans who refuse to social distance, wear masks, or even get the vaccine as it becomes available to them. This is a problem when combined with increased interaction with others.
“It is so unconscionable people would make decisions without thinking about their fellow common man and woman and other people out there because they’re so focused on trying to get back to whatever they feel they’re entitled to,” Sun said. “In order for us to really fully contain this thing is to be more aware of what other people are going through and how it can affect other people who can reinfect themselves, mutate, and then reinfect them with something even more dangerous.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is extremely concerned about the direction that the U.S. is heading in terms of the pandemic and voiced her concerns during a recent White House briefing with the COVID-19 Response Team.
"I'm going to pause here — I'm going to lose the script and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," Walensky told reporters on Monday. "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."
Walensky highlighted a bright spot on Tuesday, telling MSNBC: “Our data from the CDC today suggest that vaccinated people do not carry the virus.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at email@example.com.