- The US is moving toward a time when COVID-19 is “no longer a crisis”, a White House official said.
- Jeff Zients said cases and hospitalizations were down, but still at elevated levels.
- The US is averaging about 147,000 cases per day, a decrease of about 40% over the previous week.
The US is nearing a time when COVID-19 is “no longer a crisis”, according to the nation’s health officials.
Speaking at a press briefing Wednesday, Jeff Zients, coronavirus response co-ordinator at the White House said: “We’ve been clear that, as a country, we’re making strong progress toward moving to a time when COVID is no longer a crisis.”
“Cases and hospitalizations are coming down but are still at elevated levels,” he said.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that Omicron cases were declining. “We are all cautiously optimistic about the trajectory we are on,” she said.
The US currently has a weekly average of 47,000 cases per day, a decrease of about 40% over the previous week, Walensky said. Hospitalizations have dropped by about 28% to a seven-day average of 9,500 per day over the same time period, she said.
COVID-19 cases surged in the US after the first cases of the highly infectious Omicron variant were detected December 1. By mid-January, the average weekly number of cases stood at more than 800,000 per day, according to CDC data.
But despite the high number of cases, relatively lower hospitalization and death rates have been recorded, with experts saying that Omicron appears to be less deadly than previous dominant variants.
In light of declining cases and hospitalization, all guidance is now under review, including on wearing masks, Walensky said Wednesday.
“I know that everyone is anxious to move beyond this pandemic and some of the ways we have had to change the way we live over the last two years,” she said.
Walensky cautioned that, for masks, there would always be certain times when they would be recommended, “regardless of the level of disease burden in the community” – such as when feeling unwell or during the 10 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Walensky didn’t give a timeframe for when guidance would be updated.
Zients said that any decisions would be driven by public health and science. “I’ll just say that CDC is clearly in the lead here on both the substance and the timing of masking guidance,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said in the briefing that vaccines and boosters would be “critical” in maintaining the downward trajectory, particularly of severe disease leading to hospitalization.
The optimistic predictions from the CDC chime with those from Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, who said Wednesday it was “reasonable” to consider the COVID-19 pandemic almost over, citing a belief that the virus was most likely to evolve to be less virulent than Omicron.
Other experts have urged caution.
Ashish Jha, dean at the Brown University School of Public Health, said on Twitter Wednesday that there was “no guarantee” future variants would be less virulent.
“A large surge can be deadly,” he said. Ahead of any future surge, the focus should be on getting more people vaccinated and boosted, he added.