CDC beefs up indoor mask advice as COVID-19 cases surge

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today recommended universal mask use in all indoor settings, except when people are in their own homes, as part of a multipronged strategy to slow the nation's surge and speed economic recovery.

The advice comes a day after the nation recorded new single-day highs for cases and deaths, as well as a record number of Americans hospitalized, and marks the first time the CDC has recommended universal mask use indoors.

Steps to slow high-transmission phase

The CDC published its advice, which laid out evidence-based strategies that also included physical distancing and stepping up testing, diagnosis, and isolation, in an early online report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

It said with the onset of colder weather, more time spent indoors, and the ongoing holiday season, the United States has entered a high-level transmission phase that requires individuals and communities to take all steps, especially given that the virus can spread silently, with 50% of transmission from asymptomatic people.

The CDC said the nation's rapidly expanding activity is stressing health capacity and that full implementation of all the measures would help save lives, keep kids in school, and help keep essential businesses functioning.

"These actions will provide a bridge to a future with wide availability and high community coverage of effective vaccines, when safe return to more everyday activities in a range of settings will be possible," it added.

Yesterday, the US reported 217,644 cases and 2,879 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. And the COVID Tracking Project reported that 100,755 Americans are currently hospitalized for their infections.

In other surge-related developments, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, said during a Zoom call with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention that most churches should transition to remote services if they haven't already done so, NPR reported. The comments came the same day the US Supreme Court ordered a federal court to reexamine its earlier support for restrictions on indoor religious services in California.

Also, in multiple states, overwhelmed health workers are appealing directly to governors for stronger responses to the pandemic, the Washington Post reported. The biggest effort came from Connecticut, but doctors in Tennessee, Missouri, and Mississippi have made public their pleas to governors.

Moving forward on vaccines

Yesterday, CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, in a statement said he accepted the interim recommendation from its vaccine advisory panel earlier this week that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be the first two priority groups for receiving the first vaccine doses.

He said he hopes future recommendations, when more vaccine is available, will prioritize people ages 70 and older who live in multigenerational households. "Often our Hispanic, Black and Tribal Nations families care for their elderly in multigenerational households and they are also at significant risk," he said.

In other vaccine developments, Moderna today said interim durability data from a phase 1 study suggests that neutralizing antibodies in people who received the vaccine remained at high levels for 3 months after the second dose across all age groups. Researchers detailed the interim durability findings yesterday in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Moderna also reaffirmed that it expects to have 20 million doses available in the United States by the end of 2020 and projects that 100 to 125 million will be available globally in the first quarter of 2021.

In other US headlines:

  • President-elect Joe Biden said during an interview with CNN yesterday that he asked Anthony Fauci, MD, to stay on as chief medical advisor for the incoming Biden administration. Biden also said he plans on requiring masks on federal property and on interstate transportation and that he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency. The Biden team also announced two more health picks, Politico reported today. Transition cochair Jeff Zients has been tapped to serve as White House COVID-19 coordinator, and former Obama administration Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, has been asked to serve in that role again and also be the top medical expert and public face of the coronavirus response.

  • Thanksgiving Day vehicle travel was only 5% lower than in 2019, a sign that many Americans ignored public pleas not to travel over the holiday week, the Associated Press reported.

  • The US economy added only 245,000 jobs in November, down from 610,000 in October, signaling a sharp slowdown in the economy, the Wall Street Journal reported, adding that job growth has slowed each month since June.

  • The overall US coronavirus total has climbed to 14,282,494 cases, with 277,958 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

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