Why the US should relax public health restrictions as soon as cases fall: Viewpoint

Once U.S. COVID-19 cases decline significantly, mask mandates and restrictions on indoor gatherings should be relaxed, according to Ashish Jha, MD. 

In a series of Jan. 24 tweets, Dr. Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health in Providence, R.I., explained that pausing public health restrictions once the current surge recedes will preserve people's willingness to comply with such restrictions if they're needed again in the future. 

"As case numbers fall and hospital capacity improves meaningfully, we should relax public health restrictions, including relaxing mask mandates and indoor gathering limits," Dr. Jha wrote. 

"Why not leave them on? Because mask mandates are costly and should be used sparingly, and because during future surges, we may need to ask people to pull back or mask up again," he said. "Preserving people's willingness to do things is critical. … We should use the reprieve to prepare." 

While many public health experts and federal health officials anticipate nationwide cases to see a significant drop off over the coming weeks, what's less certain is when potential future surges may arrive and what they will look like. 

"The bottom line is that as the omicron surge subsides, we will enter a period of uncertainty, with low levels of infections but hard-to-predict surges, either from the current variants or new future variants," Dr. Jha wrote in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Jan. 24. "As such, we must use the months ahead to prepare." 

To prepare, the country needs an "Operation Warp Speed 2.0" to reach those who remain unvaccinated and to develop variant-specific vaccines, Dr. Jha said. Additionally, the nation should strengthen testing capabilities and scale up its supply of therapeutics. 

Health officials anticipate omicron cases to peak by mid-February. New cases in the U.S. fell 5 percent last week compared to the week prior, CDC data shows.


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