CDC set to ease COVID face mask advice on Friday and Canada authorizes first plant-based vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce later Friday a relaxation of federal requirements for face masks, which will mean most Americans will no longer be asked to wear them in indoor spaces.

The CDC will announce a change to the metrics it uses to decide on face coverings, the Associated Press reported, citing two people described as familiar with the plan. The shift will shift from looking at the number of COVID-19 cases to taking a more holistic view of the risk of coronavirus to a community. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people residing in communities with substantial or high transmission — about 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.

The new measures will still take into account the number of cases, but will also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which were markedly improved during the emergence of the omicron variant.

Omicron has been shown to be highly transmissible and resistant to vaccines, causing many breakthrough infections in those vaccinated and even those given a booster shot. But those cases have been mostly mild or asymptomatic, meaning vaccines still offer a high level of protection against serious illness and death.

This leaves the unvaccinated at the highest risk of being hospitalized or dying from omicron, making it all the more important that they get vaccinated.

The Biden administration has said it is preparing to move the country into a new phase of the pandemic, one where COVID can be managed with vaccines and treatments, and a semblance of normality is restored. .

Some experts say it’s too soon to abandon mitigation measures like face masks, which have proven effective in containing the spread of cases.

Read also: Why we won’t see herd immunity for COVID-19

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said such a change is underway.

“Hospital capacity should be considered as an important additional barometer. Our hospitals must be able to care for people who have heart attacks and strokes. Our emergency departments cannot be so overwhelmed that patients with emerging issues have to line up,” she said during a White House briefing last week.

The United States is averaging about 72,754 COVID cases per day, down 65% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker, as the surge in cases caused by omicron continues to decline from its January peak.

The United States is seeing an average of 57,544 hospitalizations per day, down 44% from two weeks ago. And deaths in the United States are finally starting to fall, down 27% to an average of 1,868 per day.

Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and that state’s Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced new coronavirus policy recommendations on Thursday that discourage mask-wearing and pressure doctors to use drugs. off-label to treat the virus, the AP reported separately.

MarketWatch’s deep dive into ivermectin: “You won’t believe what I just found. Inside the ivermectin saga: a hacked password, mysterious websites and faulty data.

Florida’s guidelines, explicitly billed as “Buck the CDC,” are the Republican governor’s latest rift with federal officials over COVID-19 rules, a row that has boosted his notoriety within the GOP as he is considering a presidential candidacy in 2024.

“People want to live freely in Florida, without corporate masks creating a two-tier society and without excessive isolation for children,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We’re empowering health practitioners to follow the science, not Fauci’s status quo,” he said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. and for decades the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases.

Florida has had 5.8 million confirmed cases of COVID and 69,553 people have died, according to the Times tracker. Throughout the pandemic, critics have denounced the state’s collection and dissemination of data on cases, hospitalizations and mortality.

In case you missed it: WHO says omicron subvariant fails to prevent drop in global cases and US nears 940,000 COVID deaths

As countries ease Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is sticking to a “dynamic zero-Covid” approach – with help from Beijing. A rise in cases has overwhelmed hospitals and is threatening business confidence in the global financial hub. Photo: Bertha Wang/Bloomberg

Other COVID-19 news you should know:

• Italy, an early hotspot of the pandemic, will end its state of emergency on March 31, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Mario Draghi promises a gradual return to normal after more than two years of health crisis. Coronavirus cases and deaths have declined in recent weeks, and the government has come under pressure from businesses and some political parties to roll back restrictions that have been introduced since the start of 2020.

• Hong Kong recorded more than 10,000 COVID cases on Friday for the first time, ABC News reported. The new number of daily cases reached 10,010, health officials said, after surpassing 6,000 last week and 8,000 earlier this week during a spiraling outbreak. The city has reported around 50 deaths a day, many of them among unvaccinated seniors. The island has asked for help from mainland China as its health system is overwhelmed.

• Canada has become the first country to approve a plant-based COVID vaccine in the form of Medicago’s two-shot regimen, the National Post newspaper reported. The vaccine, called covifenz, is licensed for use in people aged 18 to 64. It was developed by Quebec biotech with GlaxoSmithKline GSK,
+3.30%

GSK,
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and uses technology that does not involve animal products or live viruses.

• German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned on Friday that the pandemic was not over as his country still sees record cases and death tolls, the AP reported. The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, reported 210,743 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 226 deaths in the past 24 hours. Officials say lab data suggests there could be a large number of undetected cases. “We have to be careful not to think the pandemic is over,” Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 431.9 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll topped 5.93 million.

The United States leads the world with 78.8 million cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker shows that 215.2 million people living in the United States are fully vaccinated, or 64.8% of the population. But only 93.6 million are boosted, or 43.5% of the vaccinated population.

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