The CDC announced an order late Friday that will require people to wear a face mask while using any form of public transportation, including buses, trains, taxis, airplanes, boats, subways or ride-share vehicles while traveling into, within and out of the US.
Masks must be worn while waiting, boarding, traveling and disembarking, it said. The coverings need to be at least two or more layers of breathable fabric secured to the head with ties, ear loops or elastic bands — and scarves and bandanas do not count, the order says.
People can remove their masks briefly to eat, drink or take medication; verify their identity to law enforcement or transportation officials; communicate with hearing impaired people; don an oxygen mask on an aircraft; or during a medical emergency, the CDC’s website says.
The CDC said it reserves the right to enforce the order through criminal penalties, but it “strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance” and expects support from other federal agencies to implement the order.
Experts fear variants will worsen case and death tolls
Variants such as those first identified in the UK (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) are believed to be more transmissible than previous strains.
The CDC has said the B.1.1.7 strain could become dominant in the US by March.
“The fact is, when you have a virus that has ability to transmit more efficiently than the wild type in the community, sooner or later by pure viral dynamics itself, it will become more dominant than the wild type,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a White House news briefing on Friday.
Rapid variant spread could take that number up to 620,000 by May 1, IHME said. In a worst-case scenario, nearly 654,000 Americans could be dead of Covid-19 by May 1, IHME warned.
However, experts have said surveillance for these strains has not been robust, and many more cases, especially of the B.1.1.7 variant, could be in the US.
While deaths hover near record level, another vaccine option could be near
For now, levels of daily new cases and Covid-19 hospitalizations are dipping in the US after holiday-era surges, though the number of deaths reported daily is near a record level.
• Cases: The US averaged more than 155,100 new cases a day over the last week as of Friday — 38% lower than the peak of around 249,800 recorded on January 8, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
• Hospitalizations: The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals on Friday was at the lowest level since December 3, at 101,003, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
• Deaths: The country has averaged more than 3,200 deaths a day across the last week — not far from the nation’s pandemic peak average of 3,357 reached on January 13, Johns Hopkins says.
Health experts have long said that high numbers of deaths can lag behind surges in cases and hospitalizations, as illnesses can last for weeks.
The vaccines already on the market in the US — two-dose products from Pfizer and Moderna — were found to be about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.
Health experts have told CNN that they generally think Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would be a welcome addition in a country trying to ramp up its inoculations. Besides requiring only one shot, it also boasts potential logistical advantages: It does not have to be stored in freezers; and it can be stored for three months at refrigerator temperatures, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
An authorization for the Johnson & Johnson candidate would be “good news, because we urgently need more vaccine,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School for Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said Saturday.
Boosters being developed for new strains
Novavax started developing boosters for the newer variants this month, and said it expects to select its ideal candidates in “the coming days.”
“The company plans to initiate clinical testing of these new vaccines in the second quarter of this year,” Novavax said.
CNN’s Jen Christensen, Rebekah Riess, Lauren Mascarenhas, Michael Nedelman and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.