Feb. 15 (UPI) — Cases and deaths in the United States have begun to recede following a surge from the winter holidays, but health experts still urge masking and physical distancing to prevent further spread.
The United States reported 82,178 new cases and 3,313 fatalities for Saturday as the seven-day moving average of daily confirmed cases also dropped below 100,000, down from a peak of 250,000 in early January, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
The last time the moving average of new confirmed cases was below 100,000 was in October, ahead of Thanksgiving and December holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza.
Overall, the United States continues to lead the world in cases at 27,599,346 and deaths at 484,535 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins.
California leads the nation with 3,399,878 total cases, adding 8,842 on Sunday, in addition to 408 fatalities for a total of a U.S.-high 46,843 since the start of the pandemic.
Second-place Texas added 5,725 new cases for a total of 2,221,955 and its death toll rose by 149 to 40,527.
Florida ranks third with 1,827,373 total cases, adding 5,436 infections on Sunday along with 96 new resident deaths for a total of 29,779.
New York added 8,316 new cases for the fourth-highest total in the nation at 1,529,769, adding 107 fatalities to bring its death toll to 46,064, second behind California.
Illinois ranks fifth with 1,162,154 cases and has reported a total of 19,961 deaths, adding 1,631 new cases and 35 deaths on Sunday.
Ohio climbed to eighth in fatalities at 16,346 as the state added about 4,000 fatalities Thursday through Saturday in data reconciliation from late last year. Sunday’s increase was eight. In addition, these increases have skewed the daily U.S. figured reported by Johns Hopkins.
On Sunday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stressed the importance of maintaining mask mandates and other mitigation measures to ensure the case and death totals continue to decrease.
“We are still at about 100,000 cases a day. We are still around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half fold times what we saw over the summer. It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” she told NBC News’ Meet The Press.
The CDC on Friday provided guidelines for schools to reopen even in areas with high levels of community spread provided that all students, teachers and staff wear masks when attending classes in person, implement steps to allow for physical distancing on-site and curtail sports and other extracurricular activities
Walensky told CNN masking and physical distancing are vital components in determining whether it is safe to fully reopen schools, stressing that the agency does not want “to bring community disease into the classroom” by opening without proper mitigation protocols.
“We also know that mask breaching is among the reasons that we have transmission within schools when it happens,” Walensky said. “So, we really need to do the hard work to make sure that there’s universal masking, there’s strict six feet of distancing between, that there’s courting or podding so that there’s restriction of disease if it were to be transmitted, you know, and all of the contact tracing and whatnot that needs to be done and all of that is really hard to put together.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News’ This Week on Sunday that he hopes the guidelines would help to alleviate teachers’ concerns about returning to the classroom without being vaccinated.
He added that part of the goal “is to indicate and to suggest strongly” that teachers are given a preference regarding vaccination, but added it is not essential for them to be vaccinated to reopen schools.
“That would be optimal if you could do that, but practically speaking, when you balance the benefit of getting the children back to school with the fact that the risks are being mitigated if you follow the recommendations and these new guidelines from the CDC, hopefully, I think that will alleviate the concerns on both sides,” said Fauci.