WASHINGTON (REUTERS, NYTIMES) - United States health officials said on Wednesday (Feb 16) they are preparing for the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic as Omicron-related cases decline, including updating CDC guidance on mask-wearing and shoring up US testing capacity.
Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that it is time for the United States to start inching back towards normality, despite remaining risks.
In an interview with Reuters, Dr Fauci said US states are facing tough choices in their efforts to balance the need to protect their citizens from infections and the growing fatigue with a pandemic that has dragged into its third year.
"There is no perfect solution to this," said Dr Fauci, President Joe Biden's top medical adviser and a member of the White House Covid-19 Response Team.
Earlier on Wednesday, US health officials said they were preparing new Covid-19 guidance on many aspects of the virus response as the Omicron surge in cases declines.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that the agency was working on guidance that was "relevant" and would encourage measures where they are most needed to safeguard public health.
"Things are moving in the right direction, but we want to remain vigilant to do all we can, so that this trajectory continues."
She said that the agency would soon issue new guidelines, including on face coverings, based on factors like hospital capacity, not just new coronavirus cases.
"We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again," she said.
"Should things worsen, if and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly and it will be based on the data and the science."
Her comments followed announcements by several states including New Jersey, New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon that they were lifting mask mandates for schools or other public settings in the coming weeks.
"The fact that the world and the United States and particularly certain parts of the United States are just up to here with Covid-19 - they just really need to somehow get their life back," Dr Fauci said.
"You don't want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you've got to start inching towards that."
Even with the positive trends, Covid-19 numbers remain high with some 2,200 Americans dying each day, most of them unvaccinated.
The current seven-day daily average of Covid-19 cases is about 147,000, a decrease of some 40 per cent from the previous week, according to government data. Over the same period, hospital admissions fell about 28 per cent to 9,500 per day.
Dr Fauci acknowledged that states' revised policies could involve tradeoffs and some unnecessary infections, but hewing too closely to strict prevention policies was also harmful.
"Is the impact on mental health, is the impact on development of kids, is the impact on schools - is that balanced against trying to be totally pristine and protecting against infection? I don't have the right answer to that," he said.