In the first news conference given by the US public health agency since March, CDC officials on Friday asked people to keep washing their hands, staying 6 feet apart, and wearing cloth masks.
“I know that people are eager to return to normal activities and ways of life. However, it’s important that we remember that the situation is unprecedented and the pandemic has not ended,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield.
At the briefing, the CDC also unveiled new guidelines both for returning to daily life, and attending or hosting events and gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. In newly released “Deciding to Go Out” guidelines, the agency states, “There is no way to ensure zero risk of infection.”
“In the coming weeks, we could see increases in cases as states reopen,” the CDC’s Jay Butler said, reiterating calls for safety measures during the ongoing pandemic. He noted he owned a mask depicting “grizzly bears and salmon” to honor his home state of Alaska.
“The good news is nationally we have been successful in flattening the curve — the number of new cases each day has been relatively plateaued over a prolonged period of time,” Butler added.
A related online survey of adults nationwide in May found that more than 80% of people surveyed approved of stay-at-home orders, wearing masks, and other safety measures.
Questioners on the briefing were told to keep their queries to the topic of safety measures. The CDC has largely disappeared from public view since mid-March, giving its last press conference a day before the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. In its place, the coronavirus task force headed by Vice President Mike Pence moved to the forefront of the Trump administration pandemic response.
Asked on the call whether political rallies planned by the Trump administration, where President Donald Trump has refused to wear a mask, posed a safety risk under their guidelines, the CDC officials deflected the questions by saying the guidelines applied to all gatherings.
Most states have moved to reopening plans following March and April shutdowns of schools, businesses, and mass events. Recent surges in cases in states such as Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina, concentrated so far in particular counties, have drawn concern, with health officials fearing overwhelmed hospitals if a hotspot erupts with patients.
Butler ascribed these US increases to more widespread testing, noting that this has also helped detect asymptomatic cases missed earlier in the pandemic, as well as continuing outbreaks in nursing homes and among vulnerable populations such as the homeless.
The White House task force, which has halted its own daily press briefings in the last month, has largely failed to address the rise in cases in reopened states.
More than 2 million COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in the US, and more than 113,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus since the last CDC briefing. Worldwide, more than 7.5 million cases have been reported and upward of 400,000 people have died, with Brazil, Russia, and India following the US in deaths.