Experts urge US cities and states to prepare for future outbreaks as Omicron slows | American News

Omicron backs down in the US and states and cities lift remaining restrictions. However, public health experts are urging leaders to use the lull to prepare for future outbreaks.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced new guidelines for assessing community risk, shifting the focus from cases to hospitalizations.

More than 90% of the United States is now at low risk of overburdened healthcare systems, meaning requirements for masks and other precautions can be relaxed, CDC says noted.

Most states and cities had already dropped mask mandates and vaccination requirements or announced plans to end them. Others did it after the change in orientation.

With only 65% ​​of the population fully vaccinated, the United States was shaken by Omicron. It now records an average of 54,000 cases and 1,300 deaths each day.

But cases and hospitalizations are falling very quickly, which is “reassuring,” said Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University.

Large swaths of the population have some form of protection against Covid, through vaccination or previous infection, or both.

“Even if you forgo the mitigation measures, you might not have a big spike in cases,” Karan said.

But he also worried that it would trick the public and leaders into thinking the pandemic is over.

Officials should use this time to prepare for the next flare-up and the next variant, which could be more severe or more communicable, Karan said.

“Once we have another variant, whenever that happens, the amount of spread of that variant will depend on what kind of preparation we are doing now. What are we doing to make schools, workplaces and public spaces safer? »

The United States should continue to invest in masks, testing, ventilation, vaccination campaigns, sewage monitoring and other measures to prevent and respond to the next wave, experts said. And when the next wave begins to mount, communities should pay close attention to changing levels of risk.

“We have to expect the unexpected with Covid-19,” said Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

The United States had limited national precautions throughout the pandemic, with mask mandates for federal buildings and transportation corridors and some restrictions on international travel. The response to the pandemic has instead fallen largely on states, cities and counties, producing a patchwork of rules.

Cities like New York, Chicago and Washington are waiving indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements. Los Angeles, the most populous county in the United States, lifted its indoor mask mandate at the end of February, for those who can present proof of vaccination or a negative test. Atlanta and New Orleans also lifted indoor mask mandates.

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island have recently lifted or announced plans to lift indoor or school mask mandates. On March 26, Hawaii will end requirements for travelers to present proof of vaccination or negative tests, or to self-quarantine.

Businesses can still require masks and proof of vaccination and individuals must mask up if they are at high risk or in hospitals or nursing homes, the CDC said. Those who test positive should continue to mask regardless of community level. The CDC is still reviewing federal mask mandates, including on transportation.

The guidelines aim to show when masks are needed again, offering a data-driven approach to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.

“We want to give people a break from things like wearing a mask when our levels are low, and then have the flexibility to reach them again if things get worse in the future,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. , noted on a call with reporters.

But there was political pressure to lift pandemic rules, especially among Democrats eyeing the upcoming election, and some public health experts worry the new guidelines won’t focus enough on preventing new infections.

“I’ve seen the very, very legitimate concerns that a lot of people have about whether you’re focusing on hospitalizations…it’s more of a lagging indicator,” Salemi said. “If there is a new variant that emerges and we start to see infection rates increase, focusing only on hospitalizations and hospital burden, are we missing an opportunity to act sooner?”

The new guidelines are more reactive than proactive, he said, adding that it is also the responsibility of the most vulnerable, including immunocompromised people, to protect themselves against potentially devastating infections.

Without further preparation, another surge could be devastating in the United States, Karan said.

“I’m actually pretty scared it’s the same thing that happened before. We’re going to scramble to get updated vaccines, we’re going to scramble to get masks and rapid tests, we’ll be completely overwhelmed due to exponential propagation.

This is why prevention and preparation are now so important, he said.

“You don’t prepare for the best-case scenario,” Karan said. “I’m not sitting here with wishful thinking – that’s not a strategy.”

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