As Texas, other states lift COVID restrictions, CDC chief urges Americans to keep masking up

With the US now averaging 1.9 million vaccinations a day, the country could be just 2 or 3 months away from beginning of the end of the pandemic.

Still, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is urging Americans not to let down their guard when it comes to protecting themselves and their families.

With the country averaging 66,000 new cases and just over 2,000 COVID-19 deaths each day,

Dr. Walensky is asking Americans to continue masking up, avoiding travel and crowds and staying 6-feet apart from people outside their homes.

She says the spread of new hyper-transmissible strains of the virus, like the B-117 variant, which the CDC projects could become the dominant strain in the US by the end of March, could quickly undo any progress the country is making with vaccinations.

"How this plays out is up to us," Dr. Walensky says. "The next 3 months are pivotal.  I'm asking Americans, deeply, to protect our nation's health. And to protect your loved ones.  Whether mandated or not, as individuals and communities, we can still take the right public health actions to protect ourselves and others."

COVID-19 vaccine

The pressure to stay the course comes as the pharmaceutical company Merck has agreed to help its business rival Johnson & Johnson's manufacture its newly FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Biden Administration officials say the partnership with Merck could double Johnson & Johnson's US vaccine-making capacity over the next year and help the company overcome production delays.

"Thanks to everyone's collective actions, we're now on track not only to catch up, but to have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May," Andy Slavitt, Chief White House advisor on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seniors having a hard time finding vaccine could also soon get help.

Over a dozen health insurance providers have joined a new pilot program to help 2 million Americans over 65 get vaccinated quickly.

The companies will be calling unvaccinated seniors who live in areas without easy access to vaccination sites or transportation.

"They'll talk to them about vaccine efficacy, safety and the value of vaccinations," Slavitt says.  "Then, they will facilitate vaccine registration and appointment scheduling for seniors.  They'll arrange transportation to and from a vaccination site and ensure seniors get back for a second shot."

Teachers are being pushed to the front of line.

President Biden has instructed pharmacies that participate in the federal pharmacy program to prioritize school staff and child care providers through the end of March.

The President says the goal is to get all educators their first shot by April.

In Georgia, the pharmacies in the federal program include Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens.

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