The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that even though she was encouraged by dropping COVID-19 hospitalizations and case rates, the pandemic was still not at the point at which the agency could recommend dropping nationwide indoor mask requirements.
During a White House COVID-19 response team briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters the team was very encouraged by current trends that have shown overall cases dropping more than 44% in the past week and hospitalizations down nearly 25%.
But Walensky said that while hospitalizations were down, U.S. deaths from COVID-19 rose by 3% in the past week, and that both indicators were too high to change the CDC guidance on indoor masking in areas of high transmission.
“We aren’t there yet,” she said.
More state and local governments are announcing plans to begin lifting their mask requirements. Wednesday, New York state became the latest, with Governor Kathy Hochul saying infection rates had declined to a level at which it was safe to rescind the broad masking order.
Hochul said masks would still be required in schools, health care facilities, certain types of shelters and public transit. Private businesses will be free to set their own masking rules for staff and patrons.
Walensky said that many states like New York were lifting their mandates in phases, and that she recognized the need for local governments to be flexible. But she said the CDC was basing its guidance on nationwide surveillance and data, with hospitals, in particular, being a barometer.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that, in terms of the pandemic, January was a difficult month, but data showed the nation was moving toward a time when COIVD-19 would no longer disrupt our daily lives.
He said 210 million people had been fully vaccinated, and, in the last three weeks, nationwide, daily cases were down 65% and hospitalizations were down 40%.