CDC says Americans can now go unmasked in many parts of the country


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it is relaxing its mask guidance for communities where hospitals aren’t under high strain. Under the new guidance, nearly 70% of the U.S. population lives in areas considered to be low or medium risk and residents there are advised they can go indoors without masks.

The CDC recommends continued mask use in communities where serious cases of COVID-19 are straining the health system.

The move to ease masking guidance, federal officials say, reflects current conditions at this phase of the pandemic, including widespread immunity through vaccination and prior infection as well as better access to testing and treatments.

“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky at a press briefing Friday, adding that new risk guidelines that the agency is implementing will help people know when to reach for masks again if conditions warrant.

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Covid infections plummet 90% from U.S. pandemic high, states lift mask mandates


U.S. health officials are optimistic, albeit cautiously, the country has turned the corner on the unprecedented wave of infection caused by the omicron Covid variant as new cases plummet 90% from a pandemic record set just five weeks ago.

As the nation emerges from the omicron wave, U.S. and state leaders are trying to mentally move past the crisis that has gripped everyone since the pandemic began two years ago. Public health leaders have begun rolling out plans to deal with the virus as a persistent but manageable risk in the future.

The U.S. is reporting about 84,000 new cases per day on average, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, down from a pandemic high of more than 800,000 daily cases on Jan. 15. And the decline is widespread across the nation, with average daily cases down by at least 40% in all U.S. regions over the past two weeks, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data.

Hospitalizations have also fallen sharply. There are about 66,000 patients in U.S. hospitals with Covid as of Monday, according to a seven-day average of data from the Department of Health and Human Services, down from the Jan. 20 peak of 159,000 patients.

‘It’s nice to see people smile’: Michiganders relax as COVID cases drop

At a tiny corner barber shop in Dexter, people will sit shoulder to shoulder instead of heading outside to wait for a haircut. Customers are less likely, it seems, to wear gloves and masks, to ask about vaccination statuses, or to emerge from isolation looking wild and bearded.

“The last couple of weeks in here, people are more relaxed for sure. Just recently, this whole place was packed full. And I thought: ‘This is like old times,’” said Robin Reed of Reed Barbering, Robin’s on Main Street.

Reed and two employees, Jeannie Hood and Stefanie Kass, were chatting just before closing time on Friday afternoon. The last of their clients had gone for the day and they leaned back in the barber chairs, toward a shallow countertop covered months ago with sanitizers and cleaners, and then stood to sweep clippings about the floor. They weren’t wearing masks — they don’t anymore, unless a customer requests it or wears one himself. Then, they oblige.

Just days earlier, Washtenaw County, home to liberal Ann Arbor and among the bluest in the state, announced it would drop requirements for facial coverings in schools by Feb. 28 as COVID-19 case numbers decreased dramatically across Michigan. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, saying the worst was behind the state, on Wednesday rescinded its mask advisory, enacted in November, when cases were peaking with the predominance of the delta variant.

Michigan is moving toward an endemic state, meaning the coronavirus continues to circulate long-term, but at a more manageable level, said Dr. Christopher Ledtke, a infectious disease specialist with Munson Healthcare, based in Traverse City.

“I do expect over the next few months, cases will continue to decrease to a point where we will have very low levels of community transmission,” Ledtke said early last week. “We are heading there, but we’re clearly not there yet.”

CDC: US moving closer to point COVID-19 is no longer a ‘constant crisis’


The nation’s leading health officials said Wednesday that the U.S. is moving closer to the point that COVID-19 is no longer a “constant crisis” as more cities, businesses and sports venues began lifting pandemic restrictions around the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing that the government is contemplating a change to its mask guidance in the coming weeks. Noting recent declines in COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths, she acknowledged “people are so eager” for health officials to ease masking rules and other measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“We all share the same goal – to get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer disrupting our daily lives, a time when it won’t be a constant crisis – rather something we can prevent, protect against, and treat,” Walensky said.

With the Omicron variant waning and Americans eager to move beyond the virus, government and business leaders have been out ahead of the CDC in ending virus measures in the last week, including ordering workers back to offices, eliminating mask mandates and no longer requiring proof of vaccine to get into restaurants, bars and sports and entertainment arenas.

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have fallen sharply in the U.S., with the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases dropping from about 453,000 two weeks ago to about 136,000 as of Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations are at levels similar to September, when the U.S. was emerging from the delta variant surge. Almost 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

“As a result of all this progress and the tools we now have, we are moving to a time where COVID isn’t a crisis but is something we can protect against and treat,” said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

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Fauci says time to start ‘inching’ back toward normality


Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that it is time for the United States to start inching back towards normality, despite remaining risks from COVID-19.

In an interview with Reuters, Fauci said U.S. states are facing tough choices in their efforts to balance the need to protect their citizens from infections and the growing fatigue with a pandemic that has dragged into its third year.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. health officials said they were preparing new COVID-19 guidance on many aspects of the virus response as the Omicron surge in cases declines.

That followed announcements by several states including New Jersey, New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon that they were lifting mask mandates for schools or other public settings in the coming weeks.

“The fact that the world and the United States and particularly certain parts of the United States are just up to here with COVID – they just really need to somehow get their life back,” he said.

“You don’t want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you’ve got to start inching towards that.”

The current seven-day daily average of COVID-19 cases is about 147,000, a decrease of some 40% from the previous week, according to government data. Over the same period, hospital admissions fell about 28% to 9,500 per day.

Vaccine requirements are being lifted across America as Covid cases wane


Seattle, the biggest city in the state where the first U.S. case of Covid-19 was confirmed more than two years ago, will lift its proof-of-vaccination requirement for restaurants, theaters and gyms starting March 1.

And city and county employees who have been working from home for two long years will soon start getting called back into the office.

From coast to coast, other major cities, including Philadelphia, the Twin Cities and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., are doing the same as the rate of Covid-19 infections plummets. Nationally, the average number of new daily cases has dropped by 67 percent in the last two weeks, according to NBC News’ tally.

“Numbers are coming down, and it is time to adapt,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said after the state’s stringent mandate, which required businesses to demand proof of full vaccination or mask-wearing at all indoor venues, expired this month.

On Thursday, Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, New Jersey, became the latest big-city mayor to lift the requirement to show proof of vaccination at restaurants and other public venues.

“The data shows that we are making tremendous progress,” Baraka said in a statement. “Our three-day rolling average for the City of Newark is at 2.5%. We have not been here in a long time.”

In Washington, D.C., where Covid cases have dropped by more than 90 percent since the height of the omicron wave, Mayor Muriel Bowser gave constituents a post-Valentine’s Day present by announcing that proof of vaccination will no longer be required in places like restaurants and entertainment venues starting Feb. 28.

California’s case rate now 5 times lower than peak of omicron surge


With mask restrictions set to loosen this week and Gov. Gavin Newsom poised to unveil details of an “endemic plan,” California’s COVID-19 metrics are continuing rapid improvement from the height of the omicron wave last month.

The California Department of Public Health on Monday reported the latest daily case rate at 57 per 100,000, down 46% from 106 per 100,000 a week earlier. But is nearly quadruple the pre-omicron level of about 15 per 100,000 in early December, but less than one-fifth of the peak of the omicron surge, which maxed out at 299 per 100,000 in early January.

Statewide test positivity fell to 6.2%, down from 9.1% the previous Monday and marking for the state’s lowest percentage since Dec. 21. Positivity peaked Jan. 10 at 22.7%.

Hospitalizations with COVID-19 have cut almost in half from omicron’s peak of about 15,500, reported Monday by CDPH at 8,189 patients. The state reported 1,629 are in intensive care units, down from about 2,600 in late January.

New Covid data show New York returning to pre-Omicron surge levels


Gov. Kathy Hochul reported the lowest number of hospitalizations since mid-December

As public health officials and others debate the moves of several Democratic governors this week to relax pandemic restrictions, new coronavirus data released on Saturday for New York show just how far the state has come from its most recent peak in January, when daily new infections and hospitalizations were alarmingly high.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that 3,883 New Yorkers were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, the lowest since Dec. 19 when the Omicron variant was just taking hold across the state and country.

And Friday’s statewide positivity rate — the share of positive cases among those tests reported — was at 2.5 percent, a far cry from the 23 percent positivity rate recorded just after New Year’s Day.

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