Doctors and infectious disease experts are voicing concerns over new COVID-19 strains that could reverse recent trends of declining cases and hospitalizations.
If coronavirus variants continue to rapidly increase, it would pose "a threat that could reverse the recent positive trends we are seeing," according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
It remains important, Walensky added, to wear masks, stay six feet away from other people and avoid poorly ventilated spaces
"I recognize that the pandemic has taken an enormous toll on all of us," Walensky said. "But if we all work together and take these prevention steps, we can finally turn the tide."
The top epidemiologist at Tufts University, Dr. Shira Doron, echoed Walensky, warning that now is not the time to let our guard down.
"I am very concerned about that. I really think it’s possible that the numbers could turn right around and go back up," Doron said, urging people to continue to take proper coronavirus precautions.
The nation recently reported a 20% drop in the seven-day case average and a 17% drop in hospitalizations, according to Walensky. Approximately 699 variant cases had been confirmed across 34 states as of Sunday, Walensky said, and 690 of those cases are the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Anthony Faucci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a White House coronavirus briefing that the B.1.1.7 variant could be the dominant version present in the U.S. by the end of March, and that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are "quite effective against the 1.1.7 lineage."
He said those two vaccines are not as effective against a variant first identified in South Africa, "but hopefully we will get the virus under much better control by the time that there is any indication that that might become dominant."
Faucci emphasized, however, that vaccines are still the best way to fight the mutations and end the pandemic.
In Massachusetts, Monday marked the first day that businesses including stores, restaurants and fitness centers were allowed to operate at 40 percent capacity, after being capped at 25 percent since Dec. 26.
Massachusetts has a mask order in place, and social distancing and other specific public health measures are required across an array of sectors. Bars, indoor performance venues and indoor recreation facilities like roller rinks remain closed.
The State House News Service contributed to this report.