Many of us may have celebrated the end of the COVID pandemic a bit too early. Despite a two-month decline, the virus is back on the rise thanks to widely circulating subvariants of the Omicron variant. In just the last week, infections have increased by more than 18 percent in the U.S., while hospitalizations have risen by over 24 percent, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As infections rise, more mitigation measures might be needed once again as we continue to battle the coronavirus. Read on to find out what one top virus expert is recommending we do now.
Not only have infections increased by more than 50 percent in the last two weeks, but coronavirus cases are also rising in almost every single state, according to PBS. During a May 21 interview with the broadcaster, White House COVID Response director Ashish Jha, MD, discussed the current state of the virus in the U.S., acknowledging that cases are still higher than many of us hoped they would be at this point.
“I think if we take a step back and look at where we are in this pandemic, obviously there’s a lot of infections out there. Two years in I don’t think anybody wants to hear that. It’s frustrating,” Jha told host Geoff Bennett. “I mean, the virus is not done.”
The rise in infections doesn’t mean we’ve regressed all the way back to March 2020, however. According to Jha, the U.S. has built up quite a lot of immunity over time—largely thanks to vaccinations and boosters. This has helped keep people protected and has prevented hospitalizations and deaths from rising too much even as cases increase. But to ensure safety as time passes, we have to keep up with vaccinations, as well as keep “working on improving our vaccine [and] making sure we have enough treatments,” Jha said.
“I think complacency can get us into a lot of trouble,” he further explained. “But if we stay active, we stay focused, continue to combat this virus, I think we can keep Americans safe.”
As the emergence of Omicron subvariants has brought back an uptick in coronavirus cases, virus experts are worried about the future. White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, previously warned that there was potential for another surge in the fall.
“People are tired of this pandemic, we understand that. The virus unfortunately is not done with its work,” Jha told Bennett. “As we look to the fall and winter, what I’m playing paying attention to right now is watching the virus evolve. We’ve got to pay very close attention to what happens if we do see a new wave of infections, we want to be ready with a new generation of vaccines, treatments.”
Mask mandates are no longer in place across the U.S.—including the federal mask requirement for transportation, which was lifted last month. But masking up is likely a good idea as number increase, even if there are no orders mandating it, experts say. The CDC still recommends that people in areas with medium or high COVID transmission wear masks when indoors, regardless of vaccination status. As of May 19, 45 percent of the U.S. population is currently in an area with medium or high community transmission, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, recently tweeted.
“I’ve always believed … that masking is an important part of keeping, you know, keeping infection numbers low,” Jha told Bennett. “And I think we’re going to want to get that message out to people that in areas with high infection numbers, masking is going to be an important tool to keeping infections low and getting—letting us get through the fall in winter without substantial disruption.”
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