• COVID-19 daily case numbers had seen sharp declines in recent weeks.
  • Top US health officials said those declines seem to be “stalling” at a “very high number.”
  • They warn it’s too early to lift restrictions, as some governors have begun to do in their states.
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COVID-19 case counts have been falling at a rapid rate for weeks, but top health officials warn that progress seems to be “stalling” just as some states have begun to lift restrictions.

During a White House briefing on Friday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there had been a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent days.

“Over the last few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the United States had been coming down since early January and deaths had been declining in the past week,” Walensky said. “But the latest data suggests that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at, still, a very high number.”

She said the most recent 7-day average of deaths due to COVID-19 is about 2,000 per day, which indicates a slight increase.

Although the US had been experiencing dramatic declines in cases and hospitalizations, she said those declines followed “the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic.”

Walensky said the reason for the shift could be increasingly prominent variants of the novel coronavirus, including some that are more transmissible. Experts say one variant that was first found in the UK, B.1.1.7, is expected to account for most COVID-19 cases in the US by March.

“Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” she said.

“We may be done with the virus, but clearly, the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us — not now; not when mass vaccination is so very close.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden’s chief medical adviser for COVID-19, also emphasized the importance of vaccinations during the briefing.

“It is important to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible,” Fauci said.

He said if the case counts plateau now around 70,000 per day, as the data seems to suggest, the US would be in a “very precarious position that we were right before the fall surge.”

Fauci said states should watch what happens over the next week or so before making decisions about lifting restrictions.

As governors of certain states have begun to ease restrictions, experts told Insider it’s too soon for mask mandates to be lifted. 

Get the latest coronavirus business & economic impact analysis from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is affecting industries.

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