COVID-19 live updates: Updated mask guidance from CDC could come next week

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(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.8 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 925,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 64.5% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 16, 1:27 pm
Philadelphia introduces benchmark system for lifting COVID mitigation measures

Philadelphia officials on Wednesday introduced a new tiered system to help determine when COVID-19 mitigation measures can be lifted or reimplemented, if necessary, based on the city’s key virus metrics.

The response system is broken down by four defined levels: Level 4: Extreme Caution; Level 3: Caution; Level 2: Mask Precautions; and Level 1: All Clear.

The city currently falls under the “Level 2: Mask Precautions,” meaning masks are still mandated for all indoor places, but proof of vaccination is no longer required for indoor restaurants and bars.

Should metrics decline even further, under the “all clear” category, masks will no longer be required indoors, except for places like schools and public transportation.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Feb 16, 12:44 pm
Updated mask guidance from CDC could come next week

Updated mask guidance from the CDC is expected to come as early as next week, officials confirmed to ABC News.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky did not elaborate on the timing at Wednesday’s White House briefing, only saying the CDC could “soon” update its guidance.

“We are looking at all of our guidance based not only on where we are right now in the pandemic, but also on the tools we now have at our disposal — such as vaccines, boosters, tests and treatments — and our latest understanding of the disease,” Walensky said. “We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen.”

Walensky added, “Omicron cases are declining and we are all cautiously optimistic about the trajectory we are on … but we want to remain vigilant to do all we can so that this trajectory continues.”

Walensky also stressed that it is still critical for Americans to continue to wear masks if they are symptomatic, have been recently exposed or if they are 10 days post-COVID-19 diagnosis.

-ABC News’ Anne Flaherty and Arielle Mitropoulos

Feb 16, 11:47 am
Deaths projected to drop in weeks to come

Forecast models used by the CDC suggest that daily COVID-19 fatalities will finally begin to fall in the U.S. in the weeks to come.

The ensemble model estimates that only eight states have a greater than 50% chance of having more deaths over the next two weeks compared to the past two weeks, and two states and territories have a greater than 75% chance of seeing an increase.

The models predict the U.S. death toll will be at approximately 968,000 by March 12.

The CDC obtains the forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where a team monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers. The team then creates an ensemble — displayed like a hurricane forecast spaghetti plot — usually with a wide cone of uncertainty.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Feb 16, 10:50 am
Deaths increasing in 15 states

The U.S. daily case rate has dropped to 144,000 — an 81% drop since the peak about one month ago, according to federal data.

But experts continue to caution that the pandemic is not over, with the country reporting millions of new cases every week and 97% of counties still reporting high transmission. Experts also point out that many Americans are taking at-home tests and not submitting their results, so case totals may be higher than reported.

Deaths — a lagging indicator — remain high.

The U.S. is reporting an average of 2,200 lives lost to COVID-19 each day.

Fifteen states are reporting at least a 10% increase in daily death rates over the last week: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Feb 16, 10:00 am
Report highlights mounting evidence vaccines can significantly reduce risk of developing long COVID

A new report from the United Kingdom’s public health agency highlights mounting evidence that getting vaccinated can significantly reduce the risk of developing long COVID.

Most people recover fully from COVID-19 but some experience symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog for months after infection.

The U.K. report summarizes the results of 15 previously published studies on long COVID from around the world. Collectively, these studies suggest that people who have been vaccinated are far less likely to develop long COVID.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos, Sony Salzman

Feb 16, 7:37 am
WHO: Weekly global number of COVID-19 cases fell by 19%

The global number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases fell by 19% during the week ending on Feb. 13, compared to the previous week, according to a weekly epidemiological update released Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, the number of newly recorded deaths from the disease that week remained similar to that of the previous week. Just over 16 million new cases and just under 75,000 new fatalities were reported worldwide during the week of Feb. 7 to Feb. 13, the WHO said.

All WHO regions reported decreases in the number of weekly cases except for the Western Pacific region, which reported an increase of 19%. The number of new weekly deaths increased in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the Western Pacific region, the African region and the region of the Americas, while it remained similar to that of the previous week in the European region and decreased in the Southeast Asia region, according to the WHO.

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