The coronavirus surge that has overwhelmed hospitals, strained resources and sickened tens of thousands of people appears to be waning, Biden administration officials said on Friday.
"In some parts of the country, we are seeing the number of daily cases caused by the Omicron variant beginning to decline," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a White House press briefing. "But as we have seen during other phases of this pandemic, the surge in cases started at different times in different regions, and may continue to see high case counts in some areas of the country in the days and weeks ahead."
The seven-day daily average of cases has decreased by 5% compared to the previous week, Walensky said.
In California, each infected resident is on average transmitting the virus to fewer than one person. The state’s effective transmission rate as of Thursday was 0.77, according to the California COVID Assessment Tool, published by the state Department of Public Health. A rate substantially less than 1.0 indicates the virus’ spread is decreasing.
“We are still recommending public indoor masking,” Walensky said, after emphasizing the need for all eligible Americans to get vaccinated and receive booster shots. U.S. health officials say such measures are the best ways to reduce the risk of serious illness from a virus that has caused more than 25,000 deaths since Jan. 1 and more than 850,000 since the pandemic began two years ago, according to federal health statistics.
Administration officials disclosed on Friday that free rapid coronavirus tests ordered from covidtests.gov have started shipping. The government website launched this week, with administration officials promising to send tens of millions of such tests to Americans who requested them. Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said millions of test orders have been processed, though he did not disclose how many have shipped. Americans are eligible to receive up to four tests.
Free masks are also on their way to pharmacies and community health centers as part of a program that aims to put 400 million N95 respirators on the faces of Americans, Zients said. The CDC's updated guidance on masks acknowledges that high-quality N95 and KN95 masks offer far more protection than cloth face coverings.
The free N95 masks will be limited to three per person.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.