January 12, 2022 — The CDC is preparing to update COVID-19 mask recommendations to emphasize the use of N95 and KN95 masks that better filter the virus, Director Rochelle Walinsky said Wednesday.
“We are updating the information on our mask website to reflect people’s best choices and the different levels of protection that different masks offer, and we want to give Americans the best and most updated information on mask selection,” she said in a White House news briefing.
While high-quality masks provide better protection, they can be uncomfortable to wear, expensive and hard to find. That’s why Walensky added an important caveat.
“Any mask is better than no mask, and we encourage all Americans to wear an appropriate mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19. That recommendation will not change,” she said.
“Most importantly, the best mask to wear is the one you’re going to wear that you can keep all day and carry around in indoor public spaces.”
Meanwhile, the WHO has been more focused on vaccines.
World Health Organization officials on Wednesday emphasized that global vaccine distribution is the first priority in overcoming the highly contagious Omicron variant, as well as other variants that may develop.
WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition – a group of experts evaluating the performance of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron and other emerging variables – says there is an “urgent need” for broader access to vaccines, along with a review and Update current vaccines as needed to ensure protection.
The World Health Organization has also opposed the idea that COVID-19 could become endemic in one largely vaccinated country, while the rest of the world remains unprotected.
“It is up to us how this pandemic will spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, WHO technical lead on the response to COVID-19, at a press briefing.
The World Health Organization aims to vaccinate 70% of each country’s population by the middle of the year.
But currently, 90 countries have not yet reached 40% vaccination rates, and 36 countries have less than 10% of their population vaccinated, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D.
85% of the African population did not receive the first dose.
At the briefing, Ghebreyesus said progress had been made.
The World Health Organization said that more than 15 million cases of COVID-19 were reported last week – the largest number ever in a single week – and this is likely an underestimate.
The Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa two months ago and is now present on all seven continents, is “quickly replacing deltas in almost all countries,” Ghebreyesus said.
Back at the White House in Washington, Walinsky said the average daily number of COVID-19 cases in the United States this week was 751,000, an increase of 47% from last week. The average daily hospital admission this week is 19,800, an increase of 33%. Deaths rose 40% to 1,600 per day.
But it also reported new data that supports other research showing that Omicron may produce less severe disease. Kaiser Permanente Southern California released a study Tuesday that showed that when compared to delta infections, Omicron was associated with a 53% reduced hospitalization, 74% reduced ICU admission, and a 91% reduced risk of death.
In the study, no Omicron patients required mechanical ventilation. The strain is now responsible for 98% of cases nationwide.
But Walinsky cautioned that the reduced severity of the disease is not enough to offset the huge number of cases that continue to overwhelm hospital systems.
“While we see early evidence that Omicron is less risky than Delta and those infected are less likely to require hospitalization, it is important to note that Omicron is still more transmissible than Delta,” she said. “The sudden rise in the number of cases due to Omicron is leading to an unprecedented number of daily cases, sickness, absenteeism from work and a strain on our healthcare system.”