A color-coded map on the agency’s website shows the entire country in red; 99% of all counties are in a high transmission area – a point Dr. Walensky emphasized on Wednesday.
The audience is understandably confused. Several weeks ago, with Omicron infections soaring, the CDC clarified its position on various types of masks, acknowledging that the cloth masks frequently worn by Americans do not offer as much protection as surgical masks. or respiratory. A few days later, Mr. Biden announced that his administration would distribute 400 million high-quality N95 masks to the public free of charge.
Now, several experts said, the agency must quickly come up with measures for when masking and other mitigations should be relaxed — and when they should be reinstated. Dr Wen spoke of an “offramp” and an “on ramp” for mitigation measures, and said two factors are critical: whether hospitals and intensive care units have sufficient capacity, and whether vaccines and boosters protect against serious diseases.
“Exiting restrictions must be their top priority, because that’s what individuals, businesses, national and local authorities think about every day,” she said.
Drs. Wen, Gounder and Osterholm are on a long list of experts the White House recently consulted. None of the participants would describe the discussions, except to say that the participating administration officials – including Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general; Dr. Fauci; and Dr. David A. Kessler, the scientific adviser for the Covid response – did more listening than talking.
The meetings with outside experts appear to have been prompted by a trio of articles published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which six former Biden transition advisers urged the administration to take a longer view and to start writing a pandemic playbook aimed at “the new normal”.
The effort was led by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and medical ethicist who advised former President Barack Obama. In the first article, Dr. Emanuel, Dr. Gounder and Dr. Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, wrote that the United States must avoid being stuck in “a perpetual state of emergency”.