The COVID-19 pandemic could get worse in the United States in the coming weeks, officials said Wednesday, and more people could be advised to start wearing masks indoors again.
The rising number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations is putting more of the country under guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which are calling for masks and other infection precautions.
For an increasing number of areas, “we call on local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies such as masks in indoor public spaces and increased access to testing and treatment,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, at a White House briefing with reporters.
But officials have been wary of making concrete predictions, saying how much worse the pandemic will get will depend on several factors, including how much previous infections protect against new variants.
Last week, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the US will be increasingly vulnerable to the coronavirus this fall and winter unless Congress quickly approves new funding for more vaccines and treatments.
The pandemic is now two and a half years old. And the US has – depending on how you count them – seen five waves of COVID-19 in that time, with later waves fueled by mutant 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 powered by an Omicron subvariant. On Wednesday, Walensky noted a steady increase in COVID-19 cases over the past five weeks, including a 26 percent jump nationwide over the past week.
Hospital admissions are also on the rise, up 19 percent over the past week, although she said they remain much lower than during the Omicron wave.
In late February, as that wave ebbed, the CDC released a series of new responses for communities where COVID-19 was loosening its grip, focusing less on positive test results and more on what’s happening in hospitals.
Walensky said more than 32 percent of the country currently lives in areas with moderate or high COVID-19 community levels, including more than 9 percent at the highest level where the CDC recommends mask use and other mitigation measures.
As of the past week, another eight percent of Americans lived in a county with moderate or high levels of COVID-19 community.
Officials said they are concerned that dwindling immunity and relaxed containment measures across the country could be contributing to an ongoing surge in infections and diseases. They encouraged people – especially older adults – to get booster shots.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.