“I think we at the CDC have made it very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a COVID-19 Response Team briefing at the White House.
Walensky said he would “still encourage people to wear masks to do the right thing to protect their health.”
“Every individual … has the power to do the right thing here, regardless of what states decide about their personal health, their public health, their health, their loved ones and their communities,” he said.
In Houston, the United Memorial Medical Center chief of staff said he told his staff to prepare for surges in patients due to the disappearance of the rules.
“If we open the state on the 10th, I tell you, before the end of March, we will have problems,” Dr. Joseph Varon told CNN’s “New Day” program on Wednesday.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he was “stunned” by the governor’s announcement and pleaded with residents to “act like we have a mask mandate, so people continue to wear it, so businesses continue to require it.”
In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves said that starting Wednesday the state would lift the county’s mask mandates and allow businesses to operate at full capacity.
Mayors of some cities, including Jackson and Greenville, said they will continue to enforce the mask mandates across the city.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine also announced changes to public health orders Tuesday, including removing the 300-person limit for events at banquet venues. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revealed a series of relaxed restrictions that will take effect on Friday, including expanded capacity for restaurants, retail stores, gyms, stadiums and other facilities.
And in Louisiana, most businesses, including restaurants and lounges, will be able to operate at 75% capacity starting Wednesday, while religious services will no longer have capacity limits, the governor said.
Demand for testing is dropping
Although the levels of Covid-19 cases in the US are well below the January peak, health experts have given some points of caution about the decline.
The United States averaged more than 65,400 new cases per day over the past week, well below the average high of more than 249,700 days reached on January 8. But the rate of decline has slowed recently – the average was just above 70,000 a week ago. according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
And the current case rate is still high in context – it’s very close to last summer’s highest average, which was around 67,030 on July 20.
Also, fewer people seem to be getting tested, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the week ending Monday, the US logged an average of around 1.5 million Covid-19 tests daily, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
That’s about 26% less than the average in mid-January, when the US logged a seven-day average of more than 2 million tests.
“Widespread testing must continue to defeat the pandemic,” CDC’s Dr. Greta Massetti told CNN on Tuesday. “It will take many months for every American to have the opportunity to receive one of the available vaccines.”
“In the meantime, it is critical that people continue to take preventive measures.”
Vaccines on the rise with Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Among the places that offered the J&J vaccine on Wednesday was a site run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at Miami Dade College.
At that site, people can arrive without registering beforehand and can choose, as supplies allow, on a first-come, first-served basis, which company vaccine to receive. The site intends to offer 500 J&J injections and 2,500 Pfizer injections per day.
Governors across the country have said that the introduction of J&J vaccines to the US market will help increase vaccines, and some have announced expanded eligibility guidelines as a result of the additional supply.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced that as of Wednesday, all essential frontline workers in Group 3 are eligible to schedule appointments for vaccinations, noting that the state also plans to make residents with comorbidities eligible. in Group 4 later this month.
“The third vaccine and the improved vaccine supply will help us get more people vaccinated more quickly,” the governor said. “But like we said before, we don’t have enough vaccinations yet. You may have to wait for an appointment even if today’s action means you are eligible to get vaccinated.”
For Americans who have already received a first dose, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not replace second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, except in “rare situations,” the CDC warned.
“Covid-19 vaccines are not interchangeable and the safety and efficacy of a number of mixed products have not been evaluated,” Dr. Sarah Mbaeyi, CDC medical officer, said Tuesday. “We don’t want people to start mixing and matching whatever is easiest to get.”
Vaccine Guidance Coming Soon
For Americans who are already fully vaccinated, recommendations on what they can do safely are on the way. The CDC will release a guide for fully vaccinated people when it is finalized later this week, an agency official told CNN.
The guide reportedly includes a recommendation that fully vaccinated people limit their social interactions to small gatherings at home with other fully vaccinated people.
He also reportedly recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks in public and practice social distancing. That recommendation has also been made by other health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Additionally, the guide is reported to include scenarios for Americans to consider when making plans, including travel.
CNN’s Jen Christensen, John Bonifield, Jason Hoffman, Deidre McPhillips, Alec Snyder, Rebekah Riess, Sara Weisfeldt, and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.