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1/3 of U.S. should consider indoor masking again, federal health officials say

Right now, about a third of the U.S. population lives in areas that are considered at higher risk — mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

NORFOLK, Va. — Across the country, health officials are keeping an eye on rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and bracing for a possible summer surge.

Parts of the country should consider implementing indoor masking again, according to the latest advice from federal health officials.

Right now, about a third of the U.S. population lives in areas that are considered at higher risk, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines — mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

"Hospitalization and death in the U.S. are climbing only very gradually despite substantial rises in cases, suggesting that the average case of COVID-19 is becoming milder," said Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dowdy said that shows immunity is growing in the community, not necessarily that the variants are getting milder.

"But cases are going up again. People are still dying of COVID and we can’t rule out the possibility of a major wave in the coming months," he said.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said deaths have dropped, but the U.S. is still averaging 275 COVID-19-related deaths per day.

That number comes as the country hit one million deaths just last week.

During the first White House COVID-19 briefing in weeks, COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said the U.S. is adding about 100,000 cases per day.

"What’s primarily driving that is these incredibly contagious subvariants," Jha said.

Jha said the White House has launched the third round of deliverable at-home tests. So far, 8.5 million households have requested them, which shows them the demand is still there.

As for the progress of getting vaccines for children under the age of 5, both Jha and Dr. Anthony Fauci said the FDA now has all of the data for Moderna’s under-5 vaccine.

"They are totally aware of the fact that this is a pressing problem, and they will do it as expeditiously as they possibly can," said Fauci.

Dowdy said as people take their summer trips, it’s important to remember COVID-19 as a virus isn’t going away, and we’re not out of the pandemic phase yet.

"I think that could be reasonably considered when the burden of illness of COVID-19 is along the same lines as that of other infectious diseases, like the flu," Dowdy said.

Although, he said we are in a much better place than we were two years ago.

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