In a clear sign that there are brighter days on the horizon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance to direct vaccinated individuals about their new freedoms. At the same time, the CDC is warning of a possible fourth wave of COVID-19 cases as many states begin to roll back restrictions and mask mandates.
CDC Releases New Guidance: The CDC released the guidance on Monday following weeks of speculation. The biggest takeaway from the guidance is that people who are fully vaccinated can now visit safely with other vaccinated individuals. In addition, the CDC says that it is generally safe for vaccinated individuals to gather with small groups of low-risk unvaccinated people.
No Change to Travel Guidance: While many families were hoping to jump back into travel once vaccinated, the CDC is still advising against that. According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Americans should stay home and delay non-essential travel. Walensky wants to remind people that 90% of the country is still not vaccinated, making travel a risky venture.
Defining Fully Vaccinated: The CDC cautions that it takes two weeks after the final shot to be considered fully protected from the virus. For those individuals receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, this means that they need to wait two weeks after the second dose. Because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only one dose, the maximum immunity is reached more quickly.
Latest Numbers: The good news is that there are now approximately 30 million people in the US who are fully vaccinated with even more people having received the first dose of the vaccine. At least 60 million people have received the first dose of the coveted immunization. The distribution of the vaccine has ramped up considerably over the last few weeks. The latest seven-day average puts the number of daily shots administered at 2,169,981 doses per day. When he first took office, President Joe Biden said that his goal was to administer at least one million new doses per day.
However, it is important to note that the seven-day rolling average for confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US is still averaging over 60,000 cases per day. While the number of vaccinated people is now surpassing the total number of confirmed cases, the nation still has a long way to go before it achieves herd immunity.
Updated Guidance to Become the Norm: Moving forward, the CDC plans to update guidance accordingly. Biden administration COVID-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt said that the CDC will offer new recommendations when the percentage of fully vaccinated Americans reaches 20 to 30%.
CDC Warns of Possible Fourth Surge: While the increased production and distribution of the vaccines is certainly welcome news, Walensky is cautioning that the US may still be at risk of experiencing a fourth surge of COVID-19. Walensky warned on Monday that March and April are critical months if the country wants to get this virus contained on a greater scale.
With Spring Break right around the corner, many families are looking to hit the road for a vacation. Additionally, many states are already beginning to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions, with some governors even going as far as to lift mask mandates. Wyoming is the latest state to attempt a full return to normalcy. On Monday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced that he is lifting the statewide mask mandate. He is also going to allow restaurants, bars, gyms, and theaters to open at normal capacity beginning on March 16.
New Variants Fueling Concern: One of the greatest threats is the spread of the new COVID-19 variants that are now popping up in nearly every corner of the country. These new variants have proven themselves to be more transmissible than the previous dominant strains, increasing the risk that the virus may begin to spread more quickly once again.
For example, just one month ago, the B.1.1.7 variant accounted for approximately 1 to 4% of the virus circulating in the US. Today, that number is up to 30 to 40%. Studies have shown that cases in Europe began to surge when the B.1.1.7 variant reached the 50% mark. This particular variant is up to 74% more transmissible than the previous strains in circulation.
Biden to Address Nation on Thursday: Biden will address the nation on Thursday, marking the one-year anniversary of when the COVID-19 crisis was declared a global pandemic. The president is expected to highlight the sacrifices and triumphs of the American people over the last year. The speech will also be an opportunity for Biden to tout the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, expected to pass through Congress and onto the president’s desk this week.