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US health officials urge Americans to wear masks as states reopen | Coronavirus pandemic News

4 min read

Top health officials in the United States on Wednesday urged Americans to continue to wear masks and practise social distancing, despite states announcing the easing of restrictions.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the fast spread of new variants in recent weeks has caused a “troubling” increase in cases and deaths.

Walensky warned that the current trends could lead to a fourth surge in coronavirus infections, especially if fatigue and complacency are allowed to settle in.

“Today we are at a critical nexus in the pandemic,” Walensky said during a coronavirus task force news conference on Wednesday.

“So much can turn in the next few weeks,” she said.

Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, urged Americans to continue to follow federal guidelines on mask-wearing, social distancing and handwashing [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

“On the one hand, cases in the country are levelling off at rates just on the cusp of a potential to resurge,” she added, “and on the other hand, stamina has worn thin, fatigue is winning and the exact measures we have taken to stop the pandemic are now too often being flagrantly ignored.”

Walensky said, on average, there are 66,000 new cases of the coronavirus every day, an increase of 3.5 percent from last week, and deaths, at more than 2,000 per day, have increased by 2.2 percent from the previous week.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that the state is lifting its mask mandate and restrictions on businesses starting March 10.

Other states have also joined. Also on Tuesday, governors of Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana announced the easing of restrictions on indoor dining and the capacity of other businesses.

The decision puts governors and local leaders at odds with US President Joe Biden who since taking office on January 20 called on Americans to wear a mask for at least his first 100 days in office.

Biden blasted the idea speaking at the White House on Wednesday.  “The last thing we need is neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask and forget it,” he said.

“It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science. Wash your hands, hot water. Do it frequently, wear a mask and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it,” Biden said.

“We’re not asking people just to listen to the president, of course,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said in a news conference on Wednesday. “But we’re asking people to listen to health experts, medical experts, the CDC, to Dr [Anthony] Fauci, to others who are basing their recommendations on how to save people’s lives,” she said.

Since taking office on January 20, President Biden has called on Americans to wear a mask for at least his first 100 days in office [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

CDC officials have said now is not the time to ease restrictions, and have urged Americans to continue to follow federal guidelines on their own accord.

“Every individual is empowered to do the right thing here regardless of what the states decide for personal health, for public health, for the health of their loved ones in the communities,” Walensky said.

“I would still encourage individuals to wear a mask, to social distance and to do the right thing to protect their own health,” she said.

Meanwhile, the US is hoping to ramp up vaccine production in the US to boost its vaccination campaign over the next several months.

On Tuesday, Biden announced that his administration had invoked a wartime law that enables a local drug company to produce the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the US.

He said the nation will have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May.

White House officials announced a new pilot programme with health insurance companies to help two million at-risk seniors get vaccinated [File: Gaelen Morse/Reuters]

The US is currently administering the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. And according to the CDC, 78.6 million Americans have already been inoculated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was administered for the first time in the US on Wednesday in the state of Ohio.

But issues with equity and access have persisted, with people – especially the elderly – saying that they are facing difficulties getting to vaccination sites or accessing websites for appointments that do not function or crash.

White House officials on Wednesday announced a new pilot programme in partnership with health insurance companies to help two million at-risk seniors get vaccinated by answering their questions about vaccine safety, helping them with scheduling appointments and arranging their transport.

“The goal is to get two million of the most vulnerable seniors vaccinated as soon as possible,” White House coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt said.

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