After 2 months of record-setting case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today the United States has finally returned to pre-Thanksgiving levels of COVID-19 transmission.
"We are now averaging 144,000 cases per day, and though deaths continue to increase, a recent decline in hospitalizations gives us hope those will also soon fall," said Rochelle Walensky, MD, during today's White House coronavirus press briefing.
Caution about Super Bowl parties
The US reported 110,679 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 3,389 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. There are 92,880 COVID-19 patients in US hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project. According to Johns Hopkins University, the country now has 26,454,319 confirmed cases, including 447,852 deaths.
New modeling from the CDC projects 496,000 to 534,000 deaths by Feb 27.
Though the US numbers have come down, Walensky warned they were overall still very high. She also said the early efforts at contact tracing with variant cases in the United States showed people were contracting the virus when not wearing masks and when attending in-person social events with people outside their households.
On that note, Walensky said Americans should be mindful on Sunday to avoid any Super Bowl parties that are not virtual or take place with people from other households, a recommendation Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases seconded.
Vaccination momentum builds
In other news, Jeff Zients, the Biden administration's coronavirus czar, said the coming weeks will see more community vaccination sites in the nation’s hardest hit areas, including two mass vaccination sites in East Oakland and East Los Angeles in California.
"You'll see big centers in stadiums and schools, and pop-up sites working with state and local health departments to meet the communities they serve," said Zients.
The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 55,943,800 COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed in the US, and 33,878,254 doses have been administered. Zients said the administration has made significant vaccination progress during the first 2 weeks in office, and the 7-day average for vaccines was now 1.3 million.
"We are on track to meet the president's goal of 100 million shots in 100 days," said Zients, also noting that Veterans Affairs confirmed they had given their 1 millionth vaccine yesterday.
Fauci, Walensky talk double masks, schools
At least 24 states have moved teachers up the vaccination line in an effort to jump start in-person classes as soon as possible, the New York Times reports.
But today Walensky pointed out that vaccination is not required for teachers to return in safe in-person environments. Instead, schools should be able to follow CDC recommendations to allow in-person teaching.
"Vaccination is not a prerequisite for in-person school," Walensky said.
Walensky and Fauci also commented on the usefulness of double-masking, especially as a way to prevent infection from more contagious variant strains.
"There is no recommendation at this time," said Fauci. He said many may take a commonsense approach and layer masks for protection, and that the CDC will provide guidance only when there is science to confirm the practice.
The CDC is tracking the number of variant cases across the United States, and says there are now 541 B117 cases in 33 states, three B1351 cases in two states, and two P1 cases in one state.
Missing from the CDC's record are two new B1351 cases just identified among two people in Montgomery County, Maryland who had recently traveled abroad, Governor Larry Hogan tweeted.
Other US developments
Black and Hispanic Americans continue to receive fewer vaccinations than whites, according to new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In all 23 states reporting data, black people accounted for a smaller share of vaccinations compared to their share of cases. The same trend is seen in 21 states reporting data on Hispanic people.
New data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education show that about 40% of US colleges are primarily online this spring, and more than 25% are offering some in-person components, NPR reports. Smaller institutions and private 4-year colleges are more likely to be in-person.