The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is assessing its guidance on mask-wearing, its director said Wednesday, and may change its recommendations for local governments as Omicron cases continue to decline.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a press conference that she and other leaders of the pandemic response are “cautiously optimistic about the trajectory we are on.”
The current seven-day daily average of cases is about 147,000 cases per day, she said, which marks a decrease of about 40 percent over last week.
“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” Walensky said. “If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly, and it will be based on the data and the science.”
Hospitalization numbers should serve as a key metric when deciding whether to roll back COVID-19 precautions in a given community, she added.
Right now, average hospitalizations nationwide are around 9,500 per day, down 28 percent from the previous week.
“Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes. Our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed that patients with emergent issues have to wait in line,” Walensky said.
The CDC currently recommends that people wear masks in indoor public places, regardless of their vaccination status. Federal law requires passengers to wear masks on all public transportation.
However, nearly a dozen individual states — among them California, New York and Illinois — have rolled back or announced plans to roll back their indoor masking regulations, ABC News reported.
Walensky appeared Wednesday alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor.
Fauci addressed whether people need a second booster vaccine to extend protection against COVID-19, clarifying that immunocompromised people should get another booster, but the single booster shot continues to prove effective for other groups of people.
Fauci also added that the current dynamics of the pandemic “continue to point in a sharp downward direction.”
“Vaccination and boosting will be critical in maintaining that downward trajectory, particularly when you’re talking about the red curve of severe disease leading to hospitalization,” Fauci said.
According to Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, the current phase of the pandemic marks a turning point.
Vaccinations, a wide range of pills and treatments and free at-home tests and masks mean that the country can shift away from treating COVID-19 like “a crisis” and instead like “something we can protect against and treat,” Zients said.
He also alluded to a recent decision by the Food and Drug Administration to postpone approval of a vaccine for children under 5 while manufacturers evaluate their data about a three-dose regimen.
The announcement, made last week, means that young children will likely need to wait until April for a vaccine rollout.
“A vaccine for our youngest kids is on the horizon,” Zients said.
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