WASHINGTON — Desperate to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from ruining a third straight summer, federal public health officials said Wednesday that face coverings should return to parts of the country where infection rates are rising rapidly. But although cases have been rising for several weeks, local and state leaders have so far been unwilling to reimpose mask mandates, even in Democratic municipalities and states.
“We urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies such as masking in indoor public places and improving access to testing and treatment,” the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. , Dr. Rochelle Walensky, during a briefing by the White House Pandemic Response Team.
She also said that given the effectiveness of one-way masking and the availability of over-the-counter testing, people don’t need to wait for government action to take action themselves.
“In areas with high community levels, everyone should use prevention measures and wear a mask in indoor public places,” Walensky said, adding that in areas with moderate community spread, people should also “ consider” masking, depending on individual risk. factors such as age and general health.
She noted that 32% of Americans now live in a community with high or moderate levels of coronavirus, an increase of 8% from the previous week. Hospitalizations are also increasing, although deaths remain at a relatively low level, a testament to the effectiveness of treatments like Paxlovid.
Shortly after the pandemic briefing ended, the White House revealed that President Biden’s daughter, Ashley, had tested positive for coronavirus. She was expected to travel with First Lady Jill Biden to Latin America but, as millions of Americans have had to do over the past two years, she was forced to cancel her plans and s isolate instead.
“There are a lot of infections across America,” Dr Ashish Jha, who leads the pandemic response team, said Wednesday. The country is now registering some 94,000 new cases a day, he noted. In contrast, in early April, daily averages were just 25,000 cases.
“What’s primarily driving this is these incredibly contagious subvariants,” Jha said, referring to strains like BA.2.12.1, which is highly transmissible but less virulent than previous iterations of the virus. virus.
“We have a fairly high degree of immunity in our population,” against vaccination or infection with an earlier variant, Jha acknowledged. But vaccine immunity wanes, and immunity acquired from a previous infection does not guarantee that an individual will not be infected again.
A mainstay of the early days of the pandemic, White House coronavirus-related briefings had become increasingly rare this spring. But with the rise in cases in the Northeast thanks to the Omicron subvariant, the White House is eager to show that it is still taking the pandemic seriously as it addresses other pressing issues, including the war in Ukraine, access to abortion and white supremacist violence.
Local and state leaders have been reluctant to reimpose mask mandates, in part because of political resistance from conservatives, but also in recognition that getting people to follow the guidelines that have been revoked again could hurt. prove difficult.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams – who has been pushing for the city to reopen – acknowledged cases were rising again. He nevertheless resisted a step that some public health officials say is necessary whenever such spikes occur.
“We are not about to impose masks,” he said on Monday.