Masks off for many: As virus surge ebbs, U.S. issues new guidelines

covidhospitalsfeb2022nyt-300x168With the coronavirus pandemic and its most recent Omicron surge ebbing by the day, federal officials have recommended new guidelines on how regular folks can safeguard themselves against a disease that has killed at least one million Americans and infected almost 80 million of us.

The latest advisory from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a dose of welcome news for 70% of the country, where the infection-fighting agency says strict measures like face covering may be relaxed at the judgment of local health authorities.

The CDC, in a shift, has advised health officials to look at three key areas in deciding what health measures might be needed to battle the coronavirus, including:

  • new Covid-related hospital admissions over the previous week
  • the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients
  • and new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the previous week

As the New York Times reported:

“Based on these three factors, counties can calculate whether the risk to their residents is low, medium or high, according to the agency. Only people in areas of high risk need to wear a mask, according to the CDC. But unvaccinated people should wear masks even in low-risk areas, the agency said. The new set of guidelines gives people a framework for adapting precautions as virus levels change, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC’s director, told reporters … ‘We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future,’ she said. ‘We need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next.’”

The Washington Post reported this of the CDC guidelines:

“Officials said the guidelines will not immediately affect mask orders on public transportation. Americans will still be required to wear face coverings on buses, trains and planes until a decision is made closer to March 18, when the order is set to expire. Schools are included in public settings where masking and testing may not be necessary if the Covid-19 disease risk is low based on the new metrics. If districts follow the guidelines, nearly 19 million children who are now required to wear masks could be allowed into school without them.”

In the last few days, states, including large blue ones, and other governments have  already eased public health measures to quell the pandemic. These moves, and the new CDC guidelines, experts said, reflect the big fall in coronavirus cases, infection rates, hospitalizations (as shown in chart above, courtesy the New York Times), and, slowly, deaths. A key goal of the health measures has been to ensure that the U.S. health system and its staff did not get overwhelmed with the consequence of the system collapsing. With vaccines and therapies readily or more available, the greatest threat of the pandemic is retreating, though the world has seen several times already how the coronavirus has gone into quiescence, only to attack anew with dire results.

More favorable data, for a change

For now, though, the New York Times reported this overview of the brightening picture with the pandemic:

“The national outlook continues to improve rapidly, with new cases, hospitalizations and deaths all continuing to fall. Daily case reports have fallen more than 90% from their January peak. Case numbers are as low as they have been since November, before the Omicron variant took hold. About 60,000 people with the coronavirus are hospitalized nationally, down from about 160,000 in January. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units has fallen more than 40% in the last two weeks. For the first time in more than a month, the country is averaging fewer than 2,000 newly reported deaths a day. Despite the steep decline, thousands of Covid-19 deaths continued to be announced each week. Almost every state is seeing significant declines in cases and hospitalizations. New case reports are down at least 70% in the last two weeks in 12 states, including CaliforniaIndianaNevada and Wyoming.”

While it is great to see some cause for optimism anew with the pandemic, we are not done with it — yet. No respected medical authorities have declared that the coronavirus, which already has mutated with highly contagious and killer mutations, has moved to the endemic stage, where people truly will “live” with the infection.

But we’re not done yet … 

The disease, even with vaccinations, poses heightened risks to those who are immunocompromised (due to cancer care, for example), have chronic and underlying conditions, are older, and obese.

Those who are more conservative about safeguarding their health may keep wearing masks, especially indoors and in less well-ventilated settings, distancing, and minimizing their contacts with others. Let’s not see any mocking, shaming, ridiculing, or abusing (physically or otherwise) people who are playing it safe for a while, right?

It will be tough, too, to differentiate them from the unvaccinated — millions of Americans who still will be at significant risk of infection, hospitalization, and death from the coronavirus pandemic. The unvaccinated in many areas that ease pandemic measures will be required to cover their faces and more as they cannot show proof that they have gotten their coronavirus shots and boosters.

The vaccines remain life changers and life savers. If you have not gotten yours, please do so, boosters and all, pronto. If you have been exposed or think you have gotten infected, please get tested — and quarantine or isolate to protect yourself and others.

Hospitals are only starting to work out of the tragic chasm of patients struggling for their health and lives with the “mild” and highly contagious Omicron variant, as well as cases of the lingering Delta infection. Doctors, hospitals, and clinics continue to puzzle and wrestle with the care for patients with sustained debilitation due to “long Covid.”

We may be done with the pandemic, but it isn’t done with us. We have work to do still to deal with a deadly infection and its stunning array of harms.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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