It’s time to start ‘inching’ toward normalcy, Fauci says: COVID updates

It’s time to start ‘inching’ toward normalcy, Fauci says: COVID updates

America must balance the need to protect the population from the coronavirus with growing pandemic fatigue and begin “inching” toward normalcy, Dr. Anthony Fauci says.

“The world and the United States, and particularly certain parts of the United States, are just up to here with COVID, they just really need to get their life back,” Fauci said in an interview with Reuters. “You don’t want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you’ve got to start inching toward that.”

Although more than 2,000 Americans continue to die from the coronavirus each day, the daily death total fell 9% last week from the previous week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. Deaths are a lag indicator – new infections and hospitalizations have been in decline for weeks, and both fell more sharply last week.

Fauci said states that aggressively roll back restrictions could results in unnecessary infections, but that strict mandates also can take a toll.

“Is the impact on mental health, is the impact on development of kids, is the impact on schools — is that balanced against trying to be totally pristine and protecting against infection?” he said. “I don’t have the right answer to that.”

Also in the news:

►The U.S. on Wednesday reached 100,000 reported COVID-19 deaths for 2022, John Hopkins University data shows. The 100,000th death of 2020 was reported on May 23 as the first wave was ending. The 100,000th death of 2021 was reported Feb. 2.

►Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing that the government is contemplating a change to its mask guidance in the coming weeks. 

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 78 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 928,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 418 million cases and over 5.8 million deaths. More than 214 million Americans – 64.5% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we’re reading: Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates its list of countries that should be avoided due to COVID-19 risk. After nearly two years of living in the pandemic, travelers are ignoring the agency’s guidance. 

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

California officials on Thursday will unveil a plan for coexisting with the coronavirus, which scientists say could last for years. The plan presumes the state is entering an endemic stage, where the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity builds. This week California lifted its latest indoor masking mandate, and officials said they would announce at month’s end when they the mask requirement for schools would be dropped.

“The focus is going to be being prepared and being ready,” said California’s health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that 73% of Americans are currently immune to the omicron coronavirus variant, a number that means future surges could require far less disruption to society, some experts say.

The institute figures that about half of eligible Americans have received coronavirus booster shots, plus there have been nearly 80 million confirmed infections – and many more that have never been reported. All good signs in the battle for immunity.

The institute estimates that the the immunity percentage could reach to 80% by mid-March.

The notion of a “herd immunity” that could bring the pandemic to a screeching halt has disappeared amid variants, waning immunity and vaccine hesitancy among millions of Americans. But the immunity numbers should prevent or shorten new illnesses in protected people and reduce the amount of virus circulating overall, likely easing the brutal impact seen in previous waves, experts agree.

“We have changed,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, which houses the institute. “We have been exposed to this virus and we know how to deal with it.”

More than 50 million American households have received free at-home COVID-19 testing kits that started going out in late January, according to a White House official. “85% of the initial orders are now out the door. And in the next several days, we will complete the shipping of all of the initial orders,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said at a news briefing Wednesday.

The Biden administration ordered 1 billion tests to be sent through the U.S. Postal Service to Americans who sign up through COVIDTests.gov. Each household was eligible for four at-home tests, regardless of the number of household members.

The U.S. Postal Service said tests will ship within seven to 12 days of ordering, and all orders are mailed through First-Class Package Service, but many Americans who ordered tests as soon as they were available to be ordered on Jan. 18 have still not received an email with tracking information once their order has shipped.

“Once the package ships, over 60% are delivered within 24 hours and 90% within 48 hours,” Zients said.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, organ transplants plummeted by half. But the dearth didn’t last for long.

Last year, a record-breaking 41,354 transplants were performed, according to preliminary data from United Network for Organ Sharing, the first time the U.S. has ever exceeded 40,000 transplants. Dr. Matthew Cooper, president of the UNOS Board of Directors, said the organization continues to see transplantation “increase substantially.” 

“There was a period of early March to the end of April (in 2020) where it was just crisis mode and nobody was doing anything,” said Jill Grandas, executive director of DCI Donor Services, which make up three organ procurement organizations in Tennessee, New Mexico and California. “Things were pretty abysmal at that point. But in May, our donor programs quickly rebounded and transplantation began again.”

Despite obstacles created by the pandemic, a harmonious combination of technological advancements, cooperation between medical facilities and solidarity among Americans drove lifesaving transplants in 2021, experts say.

A summary of data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network shows donors with resolved COVID-19 and a positive test 21 to 90 days after the disease onset are unlikely to transmit the infection. So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported only three cases of donor-derived COVID-19 to lung recipients.

There have been no cases of COVID-19 transmission to nonlung recipients.

– Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY

Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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