In a White House press briefing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned of a potential upcoming surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and how the public should protect against infection. How can you stay safe? Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
“We’ve seen a steady increase in COVID-19 cases,” says Dr. Walensky. “While cases remain much lower than during the Omicron surge this past winter, the current seven-day daily average of cases is now at about 94,000 cases per day, which is an increase nationally about 26% over the previous week, and a threefold increase over the last month. Similarly, hospital admissions are also increasing, but remain much lower than they were during the Omicron surge. The seven-day average of hospital admissions now is about 3,000 per day. And that’s an increase of about 19% over the previous week. And while deaths do remain low, we are still seeing a tragic seven-day average of daily deaths at about 275 per day.”
“Our vaccines, prevention measures, and treatment options are working to save lives,” says Dr. Walensky. “However, we know that those who are not consistently using these tools when recommended continue to remain vulnerable to serious disease, hospitalization, and death… we have many tools to help prevent severe disease from COVID-19, including vaccination and boosters. Our vaccine-effectiveness cohort studies have shown COVID-19 vaccines generally remain effective in preventing severe disease, including protecting against Omicron.”
“However, we also know that protection from COVID-19 vaccines wanes, or becomes less protective over time, especially in the Omicron era,” says Dr. Walensky. “This is one of the reasons vaccine boosters are so important… A dose that may help strengthen their protection against infection, urgent care visits, and especially hospitalization and death. So whether it’s your first booster or your second, if you haven’t had a vaccine dose since the beginning of December 2021, and you’re eligible, now is the time to get one.”
During the press briefing, Dr. Walensky pulled up a map showing what COVID community levels are across the U.S., and what the different colors mean (green is low, medium is yellow, high is orange). “Right now, as shown on this map, over 32% of Americans live in an area with a medium or high COVID-19 community level (counties shown in yellow or orange). Since the prior week, an additional 8% of the U.S. population is living in a county with a medium or high COVID-19 community level. For areas currently with high COVID-19 community levels (those in orange), we urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies like masking and public indoor settings, and increasing access to testing and to treatment. For individuals, COVID-19 community levels can also be used to inform personal decisions on how to best protect oneself in areas where community levels are high.”
“Everyone should be using prevention measures and wearing a mask in public indoor settings,” says Dr. Walensky. “In areas with medium COVID-19 community levels (in yellow) individuals should consider taking prevention measures based on their own risk, like avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, increasing their testing—especially before gathering with others indoors. And in any COVID-19 community levels, individuals may always choose to wear a mask to protect themselves from infection. As we’re currently seeing a steady rise of cases in parts of the country, we encourage everyone to use the menu of tools we have today to prevent further infection and severe disease, including wearing a mask, getting tested, accessing treatments early if infected, and getting vaccinated or boosted, especially if you’re over 50, and if your last dose was more than five months ago.”
“Let’s look at some of the facts,” says Dr. Fauci. “Variants will continue to emerge if the virus circulates globally (a strong argument for what Dr. [Ashish] Jha said about how a global pandemic requires a global response). We can keep the level of virus to the lowest possible level, which is the best way to avoid variants because the less replication, the less mutation; the less mutation, the less variants. Importantly, vaccines continue to provide strong protection against severe disease, and that’s the reason why as cases go up and even more infections than are recorded cases, the discrepancy or ratio between hospitalization and cases clearly is much less than it was, for example, in the Delta wave. However, immunity does wane, and that is why it is so important to stay up to date with vaccines and particularly boosters.”
“If you test positive for COVID-19, talk to a healthcare provider as soon as possible about treatment options, including the test to treat,” says Dr. Fauci. “And finally, we do need more resources, as all of us have said over and over, the development of next generation vaccines and therapeutics is critical. And in order to do that, we need the resources that we’ve been asking for.”
“The important thing is that you want to leave the FDA to do what they do well, without unnecessary pressure or interference,” says Dr. Fauci. “They are totally aware of the fact that this is a pressing problem, and they will do it as expeditiously as they possibly can. And it is a process of getting all of the data and having the time—and they don’t waste time—to analyze the data and make a decision that the United States public will feel comfortable about, because they did it correctly and put all their resources into it. So it wouldn’t be appropriate for either myself or Rochelle or Ashish to give you days versus weeks versus months, they’re going to do it as expeditiously as they possibly can.”
“What we’ve seen with prior increases in infections, in different waves of infection, have demonstrated that this travels across the country and has the potential to travel across the country,” says Dr. Walensky. “So I think the important thing to recognize is that we actually have the tools to prevent it. We’ve always said put your mask aside when infection rates are low, and pick it up again when infection rates are higher. We know that we have vaccines and boosters. We know we have treatments. We know that people can use tests before they gather, so that they can work towards making sure that you have an environment that is a safer environment. And so we would ask people to engage in all of the activities that they want to engage in, but to do so wisely, do so when you’re up to date with your vaccines, when you’ve tested before you gather, and if you have a high risk of infection in your area, to put on that mask before you gather.”
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.