WASHINGTON - A top U.S. health official said Sunday she is “cautiously optimistic” that the U.S. is on the path to controlling the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s premature to declare victory,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the “Fox News Sunday” show. “We have to remain humble.”
But she added, “I am cautiously optimistic that we’re at a good place right now, that cases are continuing to come down.”
Walensky offered her broad assessment of the U.S. fight against coronavirus days after her agency said the 123 million fully vaccinated people in the U.S. — about one-third of the population — no longer have to wear face masks, a significant milestone in returning the country to some sense of business and social normalcy.
“Science allows us to say fully vaccinated people can take off their masks,” she said. But she added that the U.S. needs to be “wary of new variants. We do need to be cautious.”
She said those who have been fully inoculated are “not at risk of severe disease or hospitalization from COVID-19. If you are not vaccinated, you are not safe.”
She urged unvaccinated Americans to get the necessary shots, saying that 90% of the country is now within 8 kilometers of a place where shots are being administered. Walensky said from 1.5 million to 2 million shots are being administered in the U.S. each day, down from a peak of more than 3 million.
But millions of people for one reason or another say they have no intention of getting a shot, skepticism that could curb the country’s overall success in combating the infectious disease.
Even as fully vaccinated people begin to remove their masks in the U.S., high-profile cases of breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated have raised concerns. The comedian Bill Maher and eight members of the New York Yankee organization, all fully vaccinated, have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to reports.
Walensky told ABC’s “This Week” that health officials are investigating the Yankees situation, but added that of the eight, seven were asymptomatic. The eighth was a mild case. All were detected through routine testing, which isn’t happening in other populations.
“This is the vaccine working,” she said. “This means that you didn't get infected — or you didn't get a severe infection. You didn't require hospitalization. You didn't require death, and most likely those people were not transmitting to other people.”
The U.S. is now allowing children as young as 12 to get vaccinated. Walensky told CNN that she hopes that by the end of 2021 health experts will be able to determine that it is safe to vaccinate even younger children.
In the meantime, she said “those kids should continue to wear masks.”
She said the CDC will soon issue guidelines for safe coronavirus protocols at summer camps for children.
The U.S. has recorded nearly 586,000 coronavirus deaths and nearly 33 million cases, with both figures more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.