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CDC breaks silence to issue group safety guidelines but does not discourage crowds

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) punted on questions about increasing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in reopened states, claiming worrisome rises could be due to ‘increased testing’ during a Friday press briefing. 

CDC director Dr Robert Redfield and deputy director Dr Jay Butler addressed the press in the first telebriefing since the once-daily calls abruptly stopped in March. 

They announced the CDC’s new guidelines for minimizing the spread of coronavirus as states reopen and people gather in groups, which rehashed the familiar standards: wash your hands, wear a mask, stay socially distanced when possible, and don’t touch one another.

Dr Butler – who seems to have replaced the conspicuously absent Dr Nancy Messonnier as the point-person for CDC briefings – acknowledged that cases may rise amid reopenings. 

He did not initially remark on increases already seen in states that reopened early, and responded to questions about these statistics by saying it is not yet clear that these rises are due to reopening, could reflect wider testing, and had not been followed by rises in hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, in Arizona – one of 12 states where hospitalizations are rising – new cases confirmed in a single day hit a record high of  1,654 on Friday as officials told state hospitals to activate their emergency plans as ICU beds near capacity. 

The CDC held its first press briefing in three months, to issue guidelines for reducing coronavirus transmission risks this summer, but is no longer discouraging events or group gatherings

The CDC held its first press briefing in three months, to issue guidelines for reducing coronavirus transmission risks this summer, but is no longer discouraging events or group gatherings 

The CDC issued 'common sense' recommendations for gathering in groups amid the pandemic this summer, such as wearing masks, but did not discourage crowds, such as protests (file)

The CDC issued ‘common sense’ recommendations for gathering in groups amid the pandemic this summer, such as wearing masks, but did not discourage crowds, such as protests (file)

The CDC declined to directly address this.  

‘Hospitalization rates are going down [nationally] and most places where we have looked at increases in cases and diagnoses, we are not seeing an increase in hospitalizations,’ Dr Butler said.

He continued to stress that case increases reflected more widespread testing and the diagnosis of asymptomatic people. 

Case increases, he said, are ‘sometimes driven by increased testing, sometimes by outbreaks ‘ – such as those in nursing homes – ‘and sometimes by increased community transmission.

‘We have boots on the ground to…explore whether [this is an issue] of infection in the community.

‘Some people are tested without any symptoms and there are a certain proportion of people who will be diagnosed and contribute [to the caseload].’ 

It’s worth note that asymptomatic coronavirus carriers can still spread the virus. 

The number of tests being performed in Arizona increased substantially at the beginning of May.  

But the number of positives tests has further increased in the last two weeks. 

CDC Deputy Director Dr Jay Butler punted when asked about spikes in COVID-19 cases in states like Arizona, saying they may be due to increased testing

Director Dr Robert Redfield thanked Americans for cooperating with public health guidelines and stay-at-home orders, but his agency is no longer discouraging group gatherings

CDC Deputy Director Dr Jay Butler punted when asked about spikes in COVID-19 cases in states like Arizona, saying they may be due to increased testing (left). Director Dr Robert Redfield (right) thanked Americans for cooperating with public health guidelines and stay-at-home orders, but his agency is no longer discouraging group gatherings 

Hospitalizations continue to climb in Arizona, but Dr Butler said that increasing cases in some states did not appear to be leading to increasing hospitalizations in the US

Hospitalizations continue to climb in Arizona, but Dr Butler said that increasing cases in some states did not appear to be leading to increasing hospitalizations in the US 

‘It’s important Important to recall that temporal association doesn’t prove causation,’ Dr Butler said. 

As summer approaches, the CDC held its press briefing to announce its newly-issued guidelines for how to stay safe in gatherings and crowds – but did not advise against them. 

The agency has published a list of questions Americans might ask themselves to assess the risks of their planned activities, such as how coronavirus is spreading in their area, how many people will be present at a gathering and how much close contact will be involved. 

Its suggestions include eating outside at restaurants when possible, or choosing eateries with socially distanced tables, avoiding handshakes, elbow bumps, high fives and, of course, hugs, taking the stairs instead of elevators and using hand sanitizer after visiting the ATM. 

And, of course, officials continue to advise the use of face coverings, like Dr Butler’s cloth mask featuring ‘grizzly bears and wild salmon,’ an homage to his home state, Alaska that he wear for protection and to ‘express my personality,’ he told reporters. 

According to CNN, President Trump ‘insisted’ that masks not be worn at the Republican National Convention (RNC), scheduled to take place in North Carolina in August. 

Trump wants the event to go on as originally planned: indoors in a convention center, with at full size with thousands in attendance, and unmasked faces. 

When asked how the CDC’s guidance applied to the RNC, Dr Butler referred to the name of the document (‘considerations’) and reminded reporters that they are recommendations, ‘not rules.’ 

Americans have by and large been happy to comply with public health recommendations, according to the results of a CDC survey, released simultaneous with its guidance on Friday. 

Of the 1,676 people surveyed, 88 percent agreed that people should stay six feet apart, 82 percent agreed that groups of 10 or more should not be allowed to gather, and 80 percent supported stay-at-home orders and business closures. 

Dr Redfield thanked Americans for doing their part to uphold these public health measures – but his agency no longer appears to insist that they do so.  

‘I suppose the bad news today is the pandemic is not over,’ said Dr Butler.

‘The good news is nationally been successful in flattening the curve, but right now communities are experiencing different levels of transmission. 

‘As we head into the summer months, we know people will be looking forward to reconnecting and attending events and we want them to do that as safely as possible.’  

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