Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Joe Biden’s chief executive officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listens as Biden announces candidates and officers for his health and coronavirus response teams during a press conference at his transitional headquarters Wilmington, Delaware, December 8, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday that it was too early for states to stop wearing masks, given the high number of daily coronavirus cases and deaths in the United States

“We still have 100,000 cases a day. We still have between 1,500 and 3,500 deaths a day,” Walensky said during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Yet we see some communities loosening some of their mitigation strategies. We are nowhere outside of the forest.”

As the spread of the virus slows in the US and the introduction of the vaccine speeds up, states have begun to relax restrictions. Republican governors in Montana and Iowa lifted statewide mask wear requirements this month. North Dakota’s mask mandate expired in January.

In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo recently allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity despite the high risk of contagion, and opened stadiums and arenas with limited capacity.

However, health experts fear that the rapid spread of more contagious variants could lead to a renewed spike in cases and deaths in the United States. The cases of the contagious variant, first found in the UK and known as B.1.1.7, double around the country about every 10 days.

“If we loosen these mitigation strategies with increasing communicable variants, we could be in a much more difficult place,” Walensky said. “Now is the time not to let go of our watch. Now is the time to double up.”

Health officials are urging Americans to tighten and double the masks, which offers significant protection against the transmission of viruses. Recent studies by the CDC suggest that firmly worn surgical masks or doubling up with a surgical and cloth mask reduce the risk of transmission by up to 96%.

“We need to get our communities back to normal functioning before we can think about abandoning our mitigation strategies,” said Walensky.