According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States has already lost more than 529,000 people to the virus. That’s more than the number of Americans killed in World War I and World War II combined. And the death toll is rising by the thousands every week.
The number of cases, after reaching a high plateau, may begin to decline again, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walenski said Wednesday at a White House press briefing. Average hospitalization and mortality rates for Covid-19 also fell last week, he said.
While these trends are moving in the right direction, the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths is still too high and is a stark reminder that we must remain vigilant as we work to increase our vaccination efforts across the country, Walenski said.
What will help now, as the country struggles to increase vaccination rates, are the precautions officials have been using for months: Face masks, social distance, avoid crowds, wash hands.
And experts say it’s especially important that Americans heed that advice, even as more and more governors are announcing that it’s time to ease the restrictions of Covid 19 and pave the way back to normalcy. Experts have pointed out that we are not there yet.
We must continue to take proven preventative measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, Walenski said. They bring us closer to the end of this pandemic.
Guidelines for fully vaccinated persons will evolve as data become available
For Americans who are fully vaccinated, the new guidelines issued earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a modest first step toward a return to pre-pandemic life, the agency’s director and other colleagues write in an article in JAMA Viewpoint published Wednesday.
As vaccine supplies increase and distribution and delivery systems expand and improve, more people will be fully vaccinated and trying to return to their pre-pandemic lives, write Valensky and CDC officials Dr. Sarah Mbayi and Dr. Atalia Christie.
They added that the ability for vaccinated people to safely visit family and friends is an important step in improving well-being and a key benefit of vaccination.
The guidelines will evolve as vaccination rates increase and more data become available, officials said, but while many Americans are still not vaccinated, public health precautions remain very important.
Given the high rate of transmission between communities and the threat of SARS-CoV-2 variants, the CDC still recommends a range of preventive measures for all people, regardless of vaccination status, they write.
The agency has not updated its travel recommendations in its new guidance: The CDC is still advising people to postpone travel and stay home.
What we’ve seen is that there are spikes after people start traveling. We saw it after the 4th. July, we saw it after Labor Day, we saw it after the Christmas holiday, Walenski said in a briefing. Currently, 90% of people are still unprotected and unvaccinated. We will be happy to update this guide as we receive new requests from the community and the public.
More than 2 million injections per day
According to data from the CDC, more than 62 million Americans have received at least one dose of the Covid 19 vaccine. About 32.9 million people are fully vaccinated.
And for more than a week, the national average for seven-day doses has been more than two million per day.
As the number of vaccinations increases, more and more state leaders are relaxing the requirements for who can administer the vaccine.
In Indiana, teachers and daycare workers can get vaccinated starting Monday, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the state’s Department of Health.
The state also added several high-risk diseases to the list of acceptable comorbidities, including transmission from childhood to adulthood, and Weaver added to the state’s plans a phased expansion of who can be vaccinated between the ages of 40 and 49.
In at least 47 states plus DCs, teachers and school staff may receive Covid-19 vaccines. Next Monday, teachers in all 50 states will be eligible.
Georgia officials have announced that the state will have a new law as of the 15th. In March, people aged 55 and over, as well as those with disabilities and certain medical conditions, will also be eligible for the vaccine.
Assuming supplies run out, the vaccine should be available to all adults in April, Governor Brian Kemp’s office said in a statement.
Other states also announced this week that they will expand vaccination options, including Alaska, which has taken the lead by making vaccines available to anyone who lives or works in the state and is at least 16 years old. It is the first state in the country.
Pfizer’s Covid-19 is the only vaccine available to people 16 and older, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines are only available to people 18 and older.
New guidelines for nursing homes
A new guide for care homes on the safe expansion of visiting services was also published this week.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in collaboration with the CDC, issued guidelines showing that more than three million doses of the vaccine have been administered to nursing homes to date.
This policy allows visits regardless of the resident’s or visitor’s immunization status, with some exceptions.
For example, visits may be limited to Covid-19 or quarantined residents, or to unvaccinated residents of facilities where less than 70% of residents are fully vaccinated in a county with a Covid-19 positivity rate greater than 10%.
The policy states that compassionate visits, including visits to residents whose health may have seriously deteriorated, should be allowed at all times.
Facilities, residents and family members are always encouraged to keep physical distance and try to visit people outside when possible.
CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that continued isolation and separation from family takes on nursing home residents and their families, said Dr. Lee Fleischer, CMS chief medical officer, in a statement.
Therefore, now that millions of vaccines have been administered in nursing homes and to staff and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly, CMS is adjusting its visitation policy to bring more families together in a safe place.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Elizabeth Stewart, Gisela Crespo and Deirdre McPhillips contributed to this report.