U.S. Officials Aren't Ready to Declare COVID Over Despite Lifting Measures

Several states across the U.S. have eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent weeks and life has seemingly returned to normal in many places – but the federal government has signaled that it isn't prepared to declare an end to the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a more contagious version of the Omicron variant, known as BA.2, is now the dominant virus strain in the country. That same day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of a fourth dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for adults aged 50 and older amid concerns that BA.2 could cause another outbreak of infections.

Though federal data has shown that COVID-19 cases have significantly fallen from a previous wave in January, U.S. officials and healthcare experts remain clear that the pandemic is ongoing.

"The pandemic isn't over, it isn't over for anyone," Dr. Nunez-Smith, director of Yale University's health equity office, told the New York Times on Tuesday.

The Omicron BA.2 variant now accounts for 55 percent of all new virus cases in the country, according to the CDC. That marks an 11 percent increase from last week when just 39 percent of COVID-19 cases were attributed to the new variant.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that BA.2 has also become the dominant strain across the globe. The latest variant, which is thought to be 50 or 60 percent more transmissible than the original Omicron strain, has led to significant outbreaks across Europe and Asia.

However, Chief White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that BA.2 "does not appear to be any more serious when it comes to complications like the need for hospitalization." He also added that it doesn't appear to evade immune responses from vaccinated individuals or those with prior infections, but noted that it will likely still cause an uptick in cases.

Uncertainty about BA.2 comes after several states have relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, including mask and vaccine requirements. Even New York City, once the country's worst-hit location for COVID-19, has moved to drop the pandemic requirements.

However, the federal government has remained hesitant to fully do the same. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden's and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced an extension for mask mandates on public transportation until at least April 18.

Furthermore, the Biden administration has expressed worry about the pandemic when it comes to immigration. On Monday, the White House announced a plan to begin vaccinating undocumented migrants who arrive at the U.S. Southern border without proof of vaccination and who have been apprehended by border officials, according to the New York Times.

The administration has also not yet said if it would lift Title 42, a controversial public health order first imposed by former President Donald Trump that allows border officials to turn away migrants in order to avoid spreading the virus, the Times reported. The CDC is expected to review whether or not the measure is still necessary in the coming days.

Newsweek contacted the CDC and FDA for additional comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

COVID not over
As COVID-19 cases fall and more states life restrictions, the U.S. government remains hesitant to declare an end to the pandemic. Here, a healthcare worker receives a COVID vaccine at the Jackson Memorial Hospital on December 15, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images