The White House COVID-19 response team held regular briefing on Wednesday as new cases and hospitalization tick downward, but the threat of variant strains of the virus continues to loom.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, hospitalizations linked to the virus have dipped below the 80,000 mark for the first time since mid-November. Since reaching a peak of more than 132,000 hospitalizations in early January, hospitalizations have decreased by more than 40%.
The drop in hospitalizations mirrors a drop in the daily average of new cases. That figure, which is refreshed each day on a seven-day rolling basis, currently stands at about 108,000 — less than half of what it was a month ago.
But while those statistics are trending downward, they remain extremely high at levels not seen since before the current surge of spread began in the late fall.
The average number of deaths linked to the virus each day also remains elevated at about 2,600, though trends in deaths typically lag behind those of new cases and hospitalizations by several weeks.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 468,000 Americans have died of the virus.
During Wednesday's briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky further stressed the use of masks in order to further reduce the spread of COVID-19. Walensky pointed to a new CDC study that indicated that proper mask fit could significantly reduce the spread of the virus.
Walensky suggested that American make sure masks cover their entire mouth, and fit snugly against the nose. She suggested Americans wear masks with a moldable nose wire, purchase a "mask fitter" device or wear a disposable surgical mask under a cloth mask in order to ensure proper fit.
The U.S. also continues to face impending threats from various variant strains of COVID-19, which are thought to be more contagious and potentially more severe.
The country is detecting more and more cases of a variant of a strain first discovered in the U.K. last fall as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention steps up surveillance efforts. As of Wednesday, the CDC reports there have been 932 cases of the U.K. strain — an increase of nearly 300 cases since Monday — in 34 states.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House COVID-19 response team, has said that the best way to protect against the variant strains and to prevent further mutation in the future is to quickly vaccinate as many Americans as possible.
According to Bloomberg, the U.S. vaccination effort has ticked up slightly in recent weeks, as an average of 1.54 million Americans have received a dose each day for the last week. That figure is up slightly from last week, when about 1.3 million doses were being distributed each day.
Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the COVID-19 response team, announced Wednesday that the Biden administration would be setting up three more federally-run mass vaccination sites in Texas — one in Houston and two in the Dallas area — to further facilitate distribution.
Finally, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith announced that the Biden administration had selected 12 officials to serve on the White House's health equity task force, which Nunez-Smith will lead. Nunez-Smith said the team can now get to work ensuring health equity for all Americans now that advisers had been selected.