MIAMI (CBSMiami) – President Joe Biden addressed the country Wednesday, saying the U.S. is entering a "new moment" of the pandemic.
"Americans are back to living their lives again. We can't surrender that now," he said. "That does not mean that COVID-19 is over. It means that COVID-19 no longer controls our lives."
Here in South Florida, infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty said while COVID is still a concern, it is not the imminent threat it once was. She said that was due to the increased immunity and treatments now available.
"The virus is still here," she explained, "but we have a lot of personal protection with the vaccines and from prior infection."
That is why, she said, many of the sweeping COVID restrictions have been safe to roll back.
"From a public health perspective, it's no longer an emergency, because we are not seeing overwhelming numbers that are using up so much care," she said. "Because those case numbers aren't translating to a serious rise in hospitalization, they are not a public health emergency."
However, that does not mean COVID is completely gone.
"Is it still out there? Yes. Is it still a threat if you're unvaccinated and you haven't had COVID? Absolutely. Virtually everybody I've seen in the hospital lately is unvaccinated," said Dr. Marty.
The difference now, she explained, is moving from a community-wide perspective to an individual perspective. It falls on the person to decide the level of precaution or risk they take.
"If you have underlying conditions, if you have a reason, or someone who lives with you, or a loved one that you are in contact with a lot has an underlying condition, continue to use those public health measures that reduce the risk of getting infected," she said.
While she said hospitalizations have remained pretty steady, she noted a slight uptick over the last few days. At this point, she said it was not cause for major concern. Further, Dr. Marty pointed out the community is likely to see an uptick in cases due to the recent spring break travel season, as has been the pattern after holidays or high-travel periods.
There is also another variant circulating to keep in mind. The BA.2 version of Omicron, Dr. Marty said, has about the same level of severity as the original Omicron. It is contagious, though, and someone who had Omicron in the past could still catch BA.2.
As far as masks go, if someone is immunocompromised or in contact with someone high-risk, Dr. Marty advised continuing to wear them indoors.
In addition, if someone is sick with a respiratory illness or has been directly exposed to someone with one, that person should wear a mask.
Dr. Marty said for people who have been vaccinated, or had COVID in the past, and do not feel sick, they would be considered at low-risk and OK to go without a mask.
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