Members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team Wednesday said they are cautiously optimistic about the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in the United States and the White House is preparing for the non-crisis stage of the pandemic.
During a virtual briefing Wednesday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said the daily average of new COVID-19 cases was down 40% over the past seven days. She said hospitalizations dropped by 28% and deaths were down 9.5%.
Walensky told reporters the CDC was gathering community health data and said its public health guidance regarding wearing masks “would be updated soon.” Last week, Walensky said COVID-19 hospitalization and death numbers weren’t yet low enough to warrant altering recommendations.
But the CDC director explained Wednesday that while case numbers have been steadily trending downward, community spread remains substantial or high in 97% of U.S. counties. She said the CDC’s most critical concern remains severity of disease, which leads to hospitalization and threats to hospital capacity.
Walensky also said the availability and access to vaccines and treatments will factor into when and whether CDC guidelines can be modified or adjusted.
She said most states and municipalities announcing plans to ease their restrictions are doing so in phases, with most saying they will begin lifting their mask rules by the end of February or early March. Walensky said she anticipates possible CDC guideline updates to “intersect.”
Meanwhile, White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Jeff Zients said the White House has so far distributed 200 million free individual at-home COVID-19 tests around the country. He said the White House has another 800 million on hand for U.S. residents who want them.