The United States is in the midst of an "absolutely dangerous situation" as the coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen, Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health, said Wednesday.
Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths are both up 25% week over week, "and that is not going in the right direction," said Giroir, who leads the government's Covid testing effort.
"Right now, we are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness," he said Wednesday on MSNBC. "This is not crying wolf. This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we've seen in the pandemic in the United States and right now there's no sign of flattening."
Giroir said recent news that both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines could be more than 90% effective is "very positive," but neither vaccine will help to immediately end the ballooning U.S. outbreak now. More than 1,000 Americans are now dying of Covid-19 every day, on average, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Giroir said more restrictions "in most places," especially the limiting of indoor dining and indoor bars, will be necessary. He added that "we know that local or state mask mandates tend to work."
However, he noted that not all businesses will need to be closed. And he pointed to Europe as evidence that the direction of an outbreak can be reversed while keeping K-12 schools open. With surging Covid numbers across Europe, a number of countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Germany, implemented new restrictions on households and businesses, but kept schools open.
"Vaccines are around the corner," Giroir said, adding that this is "really crunch time." Americans should be doubling down now on public health measures that slow the spread of the virus.
"We all have to be incredibly concerned. We all have to be diligent," he said. "We have to make clear choices, to wear our masks, to physically distance, and try to make a better choice every single day about where you're going to gather, how you're going to gather, and how you're going to protect the vulnerable."
Giroir's comments come as the U.S. reported 161,900 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins data. That brings the seven-day average of new cases up to more than 157,300 new cases per day, up more than 29% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of the data.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic, more than 76,800 people were hospitalized with the virus on Tuesday, more than at any other point in the pandemic.
The latest weekly report issued by the White House coronavirus task force, which was obtained Tuesday by NBC News, warned of "aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration."
"We all know what the data show. The data are absolutely concerning," he said. "I lose sleep at night over where we are in the pandemic right now, but we all also know how to beat this."