CDC: Every public activity in the U.S. 'has some degree of risk'

Sara G. Miller and Jane Weaver
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CDC: Every public activity in the U.S. 'has some degree of risk'

The United States may see coronavirus cases increase in the coming weeks as states continue to reopen and Americans gather together, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, in a warning that underscored protective measures must accompany a return to daily life.

"Every activity that involves interacting with others has some degree of risk right now," Dr. Jay Butler, the leader of the CDC's COVID-19 response, said during a briefing.

"It’s important to remember the situation is unprecedented and the pandemic is ongoing," he said.

Butler noted that "nationally, we have been successful in flattening the curve," but added that communities across the country are seeing different levels of transmission as they gradually ease up on restrictions.

“It’s too soon to say” whether rising cases in some areas are the result of reopening, he said, but declined to link reopenings in a number of states across the country to rising cases. He also cautioned that "the vast majority of Americans still have not been exposed to this virus."

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield urged Americans to continue to follow public health guidance including social distancing, frequent hand washing and wearing cloth face coverings in public.

During the briefing, the agency's first public news conference since late March, the CDC released two detailed lists of suggestions, called "Deciding to Go Out" and "Considerations for Events and Gatherings," to help individuals reduce risks as communities reopen and Americans increasingly go out to restaurants, events and gatherings.

"There is no way to ensure zero risk of infection," according to the "Deciding to Go Out" document.

When going out in public, people are advised to bring a cloth face covering, tissues and hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol. It's also important to consider how widely COVID-19 is spreading within the community, know local restrictions and consider whether it's possible to keep 6 feet of distance from other people, according to the CDC document.

"The more closely you interact with others, the longer the interactions last, and more people involved, the higher risk of COVID-19," Butler warned Friday.

The CDC’s briefing comes as President Donald Trump has scheduled his first, in-person political rally since states around the U.S. went on lockdown in mid-March and as the Republican National Committee makes plans for the political convention later this summer.

The CDC did not respond to questions about the political rallies. Instead, Butler said the guidelines for attending events aren't tied to any particular mass gatherings.

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"They are applicable to any type of event that may occur," he said. "Americans should consider whether they will be able to social distance, have access to hand hygiene and wear face coverings. People should not attend events if they are sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19."

Also Friday, the CDC published survey results which found that a majority of Americans supported actions taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including stay-at-home orders, nonessential business closures and wearing cloth masks in public.

Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they supported stay-at-home orders and nonessential business closures. Levels of support were even higher for social distancing, with more than 87 percent of respondents' support, and limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people, with more than 82 percent support.

More than 84 percent of Americans said that their state's actions struck the right balance or were not restrictive enough.

The survey looked at responses from early May from a nationwide sample, as well as from New York City and Los Angeles, finding similar levels of support for public health guidelines among all groups.

In addition to supporting the measures taken, most Americans also reported adhering to the guidelines: Approximately 77 percent of respondents reported self-isolating, and similar rates of respondents reported social distancing and limiting the number of people in gatherings.

Among those who had gone into a public place in the past week, just over 74 percent reported always or often wearing a face covering, with higher rates in New York City and Los Angeles.