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COVID-19 response team: Letting up on social distancing, mask ordinances could lead to backslide

COVID-19
Posted at 9:50 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 12:01:20-05

The White House COVID-19 response team warned that while the rate of spread of the virus continues to fall throughout the U.S., Americans still need to keep their guards up in order to prevent backslide.

The rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has plummeted in recent weeks. After peaking at an average of nearly a quarter of a million new cases each day in January, that average dipped below 100,000 cases a day for the first time since early November over the weekend.

On Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that the drop in case rates is likely due to Americans increasingly adopting social distancing measures — not because of an increase in vaccinations. She warned that while COVID-19 cases have been falling for five straight weeks, it was more important than ever to maintain public health measures, given the threat of variant strains of the virus.

The surge in cases between November and January has been attributed to an increase in travel for the holiday season.

The COVID Tracking Project reports that hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus continue to fall as well. There are currently about 65,000 people hospitalized with the virus — a number that has been cut in half since mid-January. The seven-day rolling average of deaths linked to the virus each day has dropped by about a third of what it was just three weeks ago.

But while the rate of spread is following, case rates still remain high. Rates of new cases and the number of people hospitalized with the virus are still above the levels the country saw during a surge in cases this summer.

While Walensky said Wednesday that variant strains remain a cause for concern, she added that the best way to fight them is to continue those common-sense health measures: Wearing a well-fitting mask, social distancing, avoiding travel and crowded places and practicing regular hand washing. She also urged Americans to get vaccinated when it is their turn to do so.

Walensky also stressed during Wednesday's briefing that Americans do not need to wear N95 masks in order to prevent the spread of variant strains of the virus, saying that science has shown that well-fitting cloth masks or double-masking provides adequate coverage.

As of Wednesday morning, the U.S. is distributing about 1.7 million doses of the vaccine each day, according to Bloomberg. That puts the Biden administration on track to achieve its goal of administering 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in its first 100 days in office.

So far, 56 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people in the U.S.

White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients said during Wednesday's briefing that severe winter weather is "having an impact" on vaccine delivery and distribution throughout the country, especially in Texas. Zients said he's pushing governors to keep vaccination sites open longer when they can reopen in order to make up for lost time.

The response team's briefing came days after the CDC released guidelines for reopening schools — a plan that does not require teachers to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that it would be "impractical" to require all teachers to be fully vaccinated before returning to the classroom, but added that teachers should be prioritized for vaccination just like other essential workers.