The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not revised its masking guidance even as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps the United States, driving up infections, director Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday.
Walensky declined to say whether the CDC is considering changing the guidance. The CDC in May relaxed its guidance so that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most public spaces.
Her comments coincided with reports that administration officials were discussing whether to shift guidance about masking in response to outbreaks caused by the delta variant.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said such a decision would be made by the CDC, and President Joe Biden said experts were studying any necessary changes.
"What they're doing is they're … investigating every aspect of any change that could or might take place," Biden told reporters at the White House. "We follow the science."
The president said on Wednesday that the CDC is likely to advise unvaccinated children to wear masks in school as districts around the country prepare to reopen for the coming school year.
The seven-day average of new cases in the United States is up 53 per cent over the previous week, Walensky said. The delta variant, which was first found in India, now comprises more than 80 per cent of new cases in the United States and has been detected in more than 90 countries.
Some hospitals around the United States are reaching their capacity limits as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge, Walensky said.
The uptick in cases is concentrated in regions with lower vaccination rates. Florida, Texas and Missouri account for 40 per cent of all new cases nationwide, with around one in five of all new U.S. cases occurring in Florida, White House COVID-19 task force director Jeffrey Zients said.
Zients said that the United States will continue to distribute tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
The White House in June announced plans to distribute around 80 million COVID-19 vaccines globally.
Top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said there is no reason for people who received Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine to assume that they need to get an additional shot of Pfizer Inc's or Moderna Inc's vaccines to protect themselves against new variants of the virus.
The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are reviewing data to see if there is waning immunity in vaccinated people to determine if additional booster shots are needed.
What's happening in Tokyo
Tokyo hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, one day before the Olympics begin, as worries grow of a worsening of infections during the Games. Thursday's 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on Jan. 15.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on July 12, but daily cases have sharply increased since then. The emergency measures, which largely involve a ban on alcohol sales and shorter hours for restaurants and bars, are to last until Aug. 22, after the Olympics end on Aug. 8.
The Olympics, delayed for a year by the pandemic, begin Friday. Spectators are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.
Inside the Olympic village, road cyclist Michal Schlegel was the fourth Czech athlete from three different sports to test positive before their competition.
Beach volleyball players Marketa Slukova and Ondrej Perusic and table tennis player Pavel Sirucek also tested positive earlier this week. That has prompted the Czech Olympic team to investigate whether the outbreak is linked to its chartered flight to Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the West African country of Guinea, which had earlier announced that it would pull out of the Olympics due to coronavirus concerns, has reversed its decision and will now send five athletes to Tokyo. Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow said Guinea had received "guarantees from the health authorities" that athletes would be protected.
What's happening around the world
As of Thursday, more than 192.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported death toll stood at more than 4.1 million.
In Europe, Italy will soon require people to have passes reflecting their health status to access gyms, museums, movie theatres, the inside of restaurants and other venues. To be eligible for a pass, individuals must prove they have received at least one vaccine dose in the last nine months, recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months or tested negative in the previous 48 hours.
Africa, battling a severe third wave of COVID-19 infections, will start to receive the first batch of 400 million doses of vaccines from Johnson & Johnson next week, the African Union's special envoy on COVID-19 said on Thursday. Only about 60 million doses have been administered among a total population of 1.3 billion so far on the 55-nation continent.
In the Americas, YouTube says it has removed videos from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's channel for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak. The far-right former army captain — who has overseen the world's second deadliest outbreak — regularly expounds on his doubts about the severity of the virus, the foolishness of stay-at-home measures and the wonders of unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine in his videos.
In Asia, the World Health Organization on Thursday urged Indonesia to implement a stricter and wider lockdown to combat surging COVID-19 infections and deaths, just days after the country's president flagged the easing of restrictions. Indonesia has become one of the epicentres of the global pandemic recently, with positive COVID-19 cases leaping fivefold in the past five weeks.
With files from The Associated Press
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