We're certainly come a long way since the COVID pandemic first began in 2020. With the help of precautionary measures and major scientific developments, the U.S. has been able to fight the coronavirus over the last two years and bring numbers down significantly. As a result, restrictions like mask mandates and vaccine requirements have been lifted, signaling a different phase of the pandemic. Unfortunately, that may have been wishful thinking, as the crisis is far from over. In fact, both infections and hospitalizations are rising in the U.S. right now. And as these number increase, one top virus expert is sending a strong warning to all Americans, whether vaccinated or not. Read on to find out what you can do to keep yourself safe right now.
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COVID numbers are climbing in the U.S. right now.
In just the last week, infections have increased by more than 18 percent in the U.S., while hospitalizations have risen by over 24 percent, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is largely a result of new Omicron subvariants, which are circulating at higher transmission rates.
"While cases remain much lower than during the Omicron surge this past winter, the current seven-day daily average of cases is now at about 94,000 cases per day, which is an increase nationally about 26 percent over the previous week and a threefold increase over the last month," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a May 18 White House press briefing. "Similarly, hospital admissions are also increasing, but remain much lower than they were during the Omicron surge. The seven-day average of hospital admissions now is about 3,000 per day, and that's an increase of about 19 percent over the previous week."
Experts are now warning that familiar precautions may be needed.
As coronavirus cases continue to rise, many virus experts are recommending a return to certain COVID precautions. During a May 22 interview on ABC News' This Week, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, told host Martha Raddatz that all Americans should consider wearing masks again, especially inside.
"When you're in an indoor space, you should be wearing a mask," Jha said. "I feel that very strongly, that in crowded indoor spaces, in places with high transmission, people should be doing that."
The CDC recommends that a large majority of Americans mask up right now.
Under current CDC guidance, people in areas with medium or high COVID transmission should be wearing masks when indoors—even if they're fully vaccinated. With that in mind, a large portion of the population is currently being advised to mask up. Walensky recently tweeted that as of May 19, the agency's data shows that more than 45 percent of the U.S. population is in an area with medium or high community transmission.
"You may choose to wear a mask or respirator that offers greater protection in certain situations, such as when you are with people at higher risk for severe illness, or if you are at higher risk for severe illness," the CDC says.
And many experts are strongly urging it ahead of the holiday weekend.
Travelers aren't planning to abandon their holiday plans even as infections rise. According to AAA, the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is expected to see travel rates higher than what has been seen since the pandemic started, with about 39.2 million Americans estimated to travel 50 miles or more from home for the holiday.
Linda Yancey, MD, the infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas, told ABC 13 that people should pack their masks for any trips and wear them indoors or in airports if they're traveling for the Memorial Day weekend.
"Even if you are driving," Yancey said, "when you're stopping at gas stations and rest stops, you need to be wearing a mask in these places. They are going to be very crowded with fellow travelers, and a lot of those fellow travelers are going to have COVID."