As the Omicron wave recedes in the United States, more states relax mask policies and many Americans grow weary of restrictions, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the agency is working on ‘relevant’ guidance and encourage action where it is most needed to protect public health.
“Things are moving in the right direction, but we want to remain vigilant to do everything we can, to keep this trajectory going,” director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a pandemic press briefing. She said the agency would soon release new guidelines, including on face coverings, based on factors such as hospital capacity, not just new coronavirus cases.
“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when those measures are better and then have the option to achieve them again,” she said. “If things get worse, if and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly and it will be based on data and science.”
As of Tuesday, an average of about 85,000 people with the virus remained hospitalized nationwide, a decrease of more than 30% over the past two weeks, according to federal data. The number of Covid patients in intensive care units is also falling.
“Our hospitals need to be able to care for people with heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Walensky said. “Our emergency departments cannot be so overwhelmed that patients with emerging issues have to line up.”
As officials in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and elsewhere announced they were easing requirements for indoor masks, whether they apply to schools or in general, Dr. Walensky urged Americans to continue wearing masks if they show symptoms of the virus or are not feeling well.
The speed of state actions has increased pressure on the White House to announce a pandemic exit strategy sooner. Dr. Walensky said the new guidelines could be released within weeks, alongside the lifting of mask mandates in several states.
“We are encouraged by the dramatic declines we are seeing in cases and hospitalizations nationwide,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.
New coronavirus cases in the United States fell to their lowest levels since September, with the seven-day average of US cases falling to around 140,000 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database. Cases have now fallen below the peak of the wave driven by Delta, when they reached 164,418 on September 1.
Deaths, however, remain high at around 2,300 a day. And despite recent statewide action, some cities and school districts are keeping their mandates in place.
In a separate press briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that there was no conflict between federal and local guidelines, despite their divergence.
“We will continue to seek and adhere to the federal government’s CDC guidelines,” she said. “That’s what we will follow, but different leaders will make decisions based on what they think is best for their communities.”