CDC Reiterates Mask Recommendations as Virus Continues to Spread

(Bloomberg) -- States and cities might have to resume lockdowns if Covid-19 cases surge dramatically, top officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at their first press briefing in months.

The officials offered little in the way of explanation for why cases are increasing in some parts of the country, releasing little new data on what’s driving up cases in states such as Arizona, Texas and Oregon. They focused on reminding people to continue taking the same precautions the CDC has been recommending: Wear masks, keep six feet apart, wash your hands.

“I know people are eager to return to normal activities and ways of life,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield on the call. “The pandemic has not ended.”

Redfield and Jay Butler, CDC’s Covid-19 response incident manager, said anyone attending large gatherings should follow those same precautions, but wouldn’t be drawn in by questions about whether political rallies should take place. President Donald Trump will hold a rally in Oklahoma next week, though attendees have been asked to acknowledge they risk being exposed to the virus if they attend and agree not to hold the campaign liable if they get sick.

The recommendations advise event organizers to require staff to cover their faces and wash their hands frequently, and to “encourage attendees” do the same. Masks “are strongly encouraged in settings where individuals might raise their voice,” the CDC guidance said. The agency also recommended limiting attendance to allow for distancing.

When asked how that could fit in with the large-scale rallies Trump relishes, Butler said “they are not regulations, they are not commands, they are recommendations or even suggestions (for) how you can have a gathering that will keep people as safe as possible.”

As for rising case counts, Butler focused on the positive that nationally, cases have plateaued. “We have been successful in flattening the curve,” he said. What he didn’t mention is that levels remain stubbornly high, around 20,000 new cases a day. Some European countries such as Germany have succeeded in driving cases down to a far lower level.

Separately, the CDC said that forecasts suggest the U.S. death toll could top 124,000 by July 4.

The agency is carefully monitoring hospitalization rates and other indicators in states such as Arizona where cases are rising, though Butler offered few details of what driving the rise in some states.

If cases go up rapidly, “more extensive mitigation efforts such as what were implemented back in March may be needed again,” Butler said. But “that is a decision that really needs to be made locally based on what is happening within the community.”

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