Dr. Jha said the current incidence of severe disease would be worse if not for Paxlovid, an oral treatment developed by Pfizer that helps prevent severe illness if taken soon after symptoms develop. Doctors are prescribing Paxlovid pills to about 20,000 patients a day, he said. That may help explain why the rates of hospitalization and intensive care patients are low relative to the jump in infections, he added.
Officials also warned at the briefing that far too many Americans are failing to take advantage of booster shots to bolster waning protection against infection, leaving themselves vulnerable to the coronavirus’s ever more contagious incarnations. Dr. Walensky said 62 percent of those aged 50 to 64 have not received a booster in the past six months, nor have 57 percent of those 65 or older.
Despite the nation’s weariness with mitigation measures, she said that in areas with high levels of transmission, mostly in the Northeast, “we urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies like masking in public indoor settings and increasing access to testing and treatment for individuals.”
In areas with medium levels of transmission, including counties in nearly every state, people should consider wearing a mask in indoor public settings, avoiding crowds and testing themselves more often, especially before gathering with others indoors, she said.
Whether local leaders will heed C.D.C. recommendations is another matter. New York City is now experiencing a high level of transmissions, but Eric Adams, the city’s mayor, said on Wednesday that he had no plans to bring back mask requirements.
“If every variant that comes, we move into shutdown thoughts, we move into panicking, we’re not going to function as a city,” Mr. Adams said at a news conference. He said the city was settling into a “new norm” instead, recognizing that the virus would keep on mutating.
In an implicit recognition that the pandemic is not over, the administration on Monday quietly let pass a deadline for lifting the public health emergency, which has allowed the government to take steps like offering Americans free coronavirus vaccines, tests and treatments; barring states from canceling people’s Medicaid coverage; and expanding access to telehealth appointments. It has also allowed hospitals to get paid more for treating Medicare patients who have Covid.