Key Words: CDC director warns against lifting mask mandates: ‘We are nowhere out of the woods’

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that it’s too soon to ease mask mandates and social-distancing rules, and warned the more contagious strain of COVID-19 first identified in the U.K. could be the dominant U.S. strain by the end of March.

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the U.S. cannot afford to let up its guard.

“We still have 100,000 cases a day. We still have somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 deaths per day… And yet we see some communities relaxing some of their mitigation strategies. We are nowhere out of the woods.” 

“If we relax these mitigation strategies with increasing transmissible variants out there, we could be in a much more difficult spot,” Walensky added. “Now is the time to double down.”

While there have only been about 1,000 confirmed cases of the U.K. variant found in the U.S. so far, she warned that could soon change.

“We know now that, or we estimate now that about 4% of disease in this country is related to B.1.1.7,” Walensky said. “And we have projections that it may be the dominant strain by the end of March.”

That’s why, she said, it’s so important to ramp up the number of coronavirus vaccinations as soon as possible.

Walensky’s warnings come as some states have been easing coronavirus restrictions. Montana and Iowa recently lifted mask mandates, and North Dakota’s mask requirement expired at the end of January.

“We need to get our communities back to some normal functioning before we can start thinking about letting up our mitigation strategies,” she said.

She added that she hopes schools can reopen “as safely and as quickly as possible.”

“Our guidance is really dependent on how much disease is in the community,” Walensky said, noting studies have shown virus transmission is more likely to occur in the community rather than inside schools.

In recent days, the average number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has dipped below 100,000 a day for the first time in months, though the number of deaths is still high. As of Sunday, there have been more than 27.6 million cases in the U.S., and more than 485,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Both are, by far, the most in the world.

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