CDC to keep Covid mask, isolation and testing guidelines in place

With nearly 500 Covid-related deaths being reported every day in the US, on average, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has no plans to ease up on restrictions anytime soon.

The CDC is expected to publish an updated summary of its Covid guidance within the next week. According to a draft document reviewed by NBC News, there are no significant changes in the current advice to mask, test or isolate.

The document is not final and could change before its expected public release next week.

Average Covid case numbers — certainly an undercount because of home testing — hit their highest level of the current surge last week, when an average of more than 136,000 cases per day were recorded on July 29, according to NBC News data.

Still, Covid cases are no longer overwhelming hospital systems as they were early on in the pandemic. The average number of beds filled with those who have Covid has leveled off, and began declining last Saturday for the first time in more than three months.

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NBC News data show that the number of reported daily deaths on average continues to slowly tick upwards, with 477 recorded Thursday. That was the highest seven-day average documented since mid-April.

One person with knowledge of the CDC plans said that the fact that around 500 people are dying every day with Covid is “huge” and does not bode well for any relaxation of restrictions in the near future.

There is some hopefulness among intensive care providers, however.

“There’s definitely something different now,” said Dr. Todd Rice, director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Medical intensive care unit. “We haven’t seen a critical illness from Covid in probably three months.”

Rice and others credit the decrease in people sick enough to be in hospital intensive care units in part to a growing level of population-wide immunity — either from vaccination, infection or both.

“We are hopeful that in the long run, the hybrid immunity is going to do a pretty good job at limiting the worst consequences of the virus,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston .

Other advancements that appear to limit the impact of Covid include treatments like Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies.

Hanage, who was not involved with the CDC guidance, said that “it’s reasonable to suggest that holding onto interventions is a good idea as we move into the fall and winter, which are likely to be worse.”

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People should still use high-quality masks indoors in areas with high levels of Covid transmission, the draft CDC document advises. Anyone who has been exposed to the virus should wear a mask inside public spaces for 10 days, and test themselves five days after the exposure.

And people who have tested positive should isolate for at least five days, then wear a mask at home and in indoor public places up through day 10.

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