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CDC delays guidance for vaccinated Americans as new Covid-19 cases stall

NBC News logo NBC News 3/5/2021 Erika Edwards
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More than half of the people in the United States 65 or older are at least partially vaccinated against Covid-19, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden's Covid-19 response team said Friday.

That's creating more pressure for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release its guidance for what people can safely do after being fully vaccinated.

At a media briefing Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged the urgency and promised the guidance is coming soon.

"These are complex issues and the science is rapidly evolving," she said. "CDC is working to ensure that the communications we release on this guidance are clear. We are making sure, and taking the time, to get this right."

While the rate of vaccinations is speeding up in the U.S. — more than 2 million doses were administered Thursday — the number of new Covid-19 cases has begun to stall after weeks of steady decline, Walensky warned.

"The most recent data shows cases continue to fluctuate around 60,000 to 70,000 cases per day," she said. The decline in the number of deaths reported each day has also flattened to about 1,900.

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Those numbers are "still too high," Walensky said, "and have now plateaued for more than a week at levels we saw during the late summer surge."

The latest information is a concern to public health officials — especially as some states, including Texas and Mississippi — have announced they will begin to ease rules on wearing face coverings.

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The slowing decline in cases suggests the country is "at risk of another spike" of Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during the briefing.

Meanwhile, the release of guidelines from the CDC on how fully vaccinated individuals can interact with other fully vaccinated people — which had been expected to be released this week — has been delayed.

The CDC said it is working to simplify the guidance and make it clear for the public. There has been speculation that the guidance could suggest fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without masks.

"I know the idea of relaxing mask wearing and getting back to everyday activities is appealing. But we're not there yet," Walensky said.

"I think CDC is taking their time to ensure that they are cautious, that they're not overstepping the science," said Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC.

Meanwhile, Americans are desperate for permission to reconnect with their loved ones.

"I hope that there's some guidance there that changes so that grandparents who are fully vaccinated might be able to hug their grandchildren," Besser added.

Also Friday, a new CDC report found that indoor dining in restaurants was associated with an increase in both Covid-19 cases, as well as Covid-19 deaths.

The study looked at the impact of on-premises eating and drinking.

The "increases in daily rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths grew more quickly within 40 to 80 days following restaurants being allowed to resume on-premises dining," Walensky said.

She added the findings serve "as a warning about premature lifting" of mask mandates. In addition to Texas and Mississippi, Iowa, Montana and North Dakota are also in the process of ending rules requiring face coverings.

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According to the CDC, more than 54 million people in the U.S. have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccination. That number is expected to ramp up significantly in the coming months, as Biden said Thursday the country should have enough vaccine doses for every eligible adult by the end of May.

Also Friday, the administration announced two stadiums will act as federal Covid-19 vaccination sites. Those are the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.

Both sites are expected to administer at least 6,000 vaccinations each per day.

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