More Americans may be asked to mask up again amid renewed COVID challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the United States in the coming weeks, officials said Wednesday, and more people could be asked to wear masks indoors again.

The growing number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations puts more of the country under guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that call for masking and other precautions against infections.

For a growing number of areas “we urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies like masks in indoor public places and to increase access to testing and treatment,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director from the CDC, during a White House briefing with reporters.

However, officials have been cautious about making concrete predictions, saying whether the pandemic worsens will depend on several factors, including how well previous infections protect against new variants.

Last week, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha warned in an interview with The Associated Press that the United States would be increasingly vulnerable to the coronavirus this fall and winter if Congress did not quickly approve new funding for more vaccines and treatments.

The pandemic is now two and a half years old. And the United States has seen — depending on how you count it — five waves of COVID-19 during that time, with subsequent surges driven by mutated versions of the coronavirus.

A fifth wave occurred mainly in December and January, caused by the Omicron variant, which spread much faster than previous versions.

New wave on the horizon?

Some experts fear the country is now seeing signs of a sixth wave, driven by a subvariant of Omicron. On Wednesday, Walensky noted a steady increase in COVID-19 cases over the past five weeks, including a 26% increase nationwide in the past week.

Hospitalizations are also increasing, up 19% in the past week, although she said they remain well below those of the omicron wave.

In late February, as that wave waned, the CDC issued a new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 was loosening its grip, focusing less on positive test results and more on what’s happening in communities. hospitals.

Walensky said more than 32% of the country currently lives in areas with medium or high community levels of COVID-19, including more than 9% at the highest level, where the CDC recommends the use of masks and protective clothing. other mitigation efforts.

Over the past week, an additional eight percent of Americans lived in a county with medium or high COVID-19 community levels.

Officials said they fear declining immunity and easing mitigation measures across the country could contribute to a continued rise in infections and disease. They encouraged people – especially the elderly – to get boosters.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.