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Officials say a third of the U.S. should consider masks Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of COVID-19 cases is rising in the United States – and could worsen in the coming months, federal health officials warned on Wednesday, urging the most affected areas to reconsider seeking camouflage indoors.

An increase in the number of COVID-19 Infections and hospitalizations expose most of the country to recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that require camouflage and other precautions against infection.

Currently, about a third of the U.S. population lives in areas that are considered high-risk groups – mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. These are areas where people should already be thinking about wearing masks indoors – but Americans elsewhere should also pay attention, officials said.

“The previous increase in infections on various waves of infection has shown that it is spreading across the country,” said Dr. Rachel Valensky, director of the CDC, at a White House briefing.

For a growing number of areas, “we urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies such as masks in public places, and increase access to testing and treatment,” she said.

However, officials were wary of specific predictions, saying how much the pandemic would worsen would depend on several factors, including how well previous infections would protect against new options.

Last week the White House coordinator for COVID-19 Dr. Ashish Ja warned in an interview with the Associated Press the US will be increasingly vulnerable to coronavirus this fall and winter if Congress does not quickly approve new funding for more vaccines and treatments.

Ja warned that without additional funding from Congress, the virus would lead to “unnecessary loss of life” in the fall and winter when the U.S. runs out of treatment.

He added that the United States is already lagging behind other countries in securing supplies of a new generation of vaccines against COVID-19 and said that the domestic production base of tests at home is already drying up as demand falls.

Ja said domestic test manufacturers have begun closing lines and laying off workers, and in the coming weeks will begin selling off equipment and preparing to go out of production if the U.S. government does not have the money to purchase additional tests, such as the hundreds of millions it sent free. families requesting this year.

This will cause the U.S. to depend on other countries to test supplies, risking shortages during the jump, Ja warned. About 8.5 million households have placed orders for the last tranche of 8 free tests since the order opened on Monday, Ja added.

Now the pandemic is 2 1/2 years old. And the U.S. saw – depending on how it counts – five waves of COVID-19 during that time, with later surges being caused by mutated versions of the coronavirus. The fifth wave occurred mainly in December and January, caused by the omicron variant.

The omicron version was much easier to distribute than previous versions.

Some experts are concerned that the country is now showing signs of a sixth wave caused by the omicron subvariant. On Wednesday, Valensky noted a steady increase in COVID-19 cases over the past five weeks, including a 26% increase in the country over the past week.

Hospitalizations are also growing, an increase of 19% over the past week, though they remain much lower than during the Omicron wave, she said.

In late February, as the wave receded, the CDC released a new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 weakened its grip, with less focus on positive test results and more on what is happening in hospitals.

Valenski said more than 32% of the country currently lives in an area with a medium or high level of COVID-19 community, including more than 9% at the highest level, where the CDC recommends using masks and other mitigation measures.

Over the past week, another 8% of Americans have lived in a county with a middle- or high-level COVID-19 community.

Officials said they were concerned that lowering immunity and easing mitigation measures across the country could contribute to further growth in infections and diseases across the country. They encouraged people – especially the elderly – to get boosters.

Some health experts say the government needs to take clearer and bolder steps.

The CDC community-level guidelines are confusing and do not give a clear idea of ​​how often the virus is transmitted in society, said Dr. Lakshmi Ganapati, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard University.

When government officials give recommendations but do not set rules, “ultimately, everyone chooses and chooses the health care that works for them. But that’s not what’s effective. When you talk about ending hospitalization and even death, all these interventions work better when people do it collectively, ”she said.

Stobb reported from New York.

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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