The White House said on Wednesday it was considering a program to offer “high-quality” masks to Americans as the highly permeable Omicron version of the coronavirus spread through the country.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey D. “We are in the process of strongly considering options,” Ziants told reporters at a regularly scheduled news briefing on the pandemic. He did not give any information about what kind of masks, how many and when they can be distributed.
According to people familiar with the discussions, the White House has yet to decide what the program will look like. One option would be to make masks available at community sites, said a person familiar with the plan.
With virus cases and hospitalizations across the country, the White House is under pressure to reassure Americans that it is doing everything possible to fight the Omicron version. An average of more than 140,000 people were hospitalized with the virus during the past week, according to federal data on Tuesday, a record-breaking figure that surpassed last winter’s peak.
Hospitalization totals include people who incidentally test positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions unrelated to COVID-19. Public health experts say the numbers are significant and accidental infections can still be troublesome, but there is no national data on this.
In a candid statement at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Janet Woodcock said most Americans would be infected by the virus – a prediction that has been echoed by outside health experts. “We need to make sure that hospitals can still function, transportation, you know, other essential services don’t get disrupted when that happens,” he said.
Asked about his comments at Wednesday’s briefing, White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony S Fauci said Dr Woodcock meant “virtually everyone” would eventually become infected. But he added, “If you’ve been vaccinated, and if you’ve been promoted then your chances of getting sick are very small.”
We’re not going to “erasing it,” he said, “but we’ll control it eventually.”
Dr. Rochelle P. Valensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited health care data from Southern California to indicate that people infected with the Omicron variant were much less likely to become seriously ill or die than those who did not. who were infected with it. Predecessor, Delta Edition. They cited a 53 percent lower risk of hospitalization with symptoms, a 74 percent lower risk of admission to intensive care, and a 91 percent lower risk of death.
The average number of new deaths rose to more than 1,700 on Tuesday, a 40 percent increase over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. While Omicron is now responsible for nine out of every ten known virus infections, Dr. Valensky said, “I suspect the deaths we’re seeing now are still from Delta.” Death is a lagging indicator compared to infection, and she said that data is needed over the next few weeks to assess the effect of Omicron on mortality.
Mr Ziants said the government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks – considered to be of the highest quality – for health care and emergency workers.
Don O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, told senators on Tuesday that additional contracts for N95 masks could be finalized by February. The government is asking potential contractors to make 141 million masks each month at “increasing capacity”.
On Wednesday, Dr. Valensky said CDC is working to update its guidance on masks to address the gap in protection between the different types. The agency continues to emphasize that people should wear a mask that fits them well, she said, adding that “the best mask for you is one that you can wear comfortably.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said on Wednesday he was reintroducing legislation co-sponsored by dozens of Democratic lawmakers that would provide a package of three N95 masks to everyone in the United States.
Former adviser to President Biden during the transition, Dr. Luciana Borio, who has called for a new pandemic strategy, said a program to distribute high-quality masks “would be better than ever.”
“They can also be used by people who have recovered and are out of isolation and go back into the work force,” she said.
Albert Sun Contributed to reporting.