After weeks of declines, new Covid-19 cases have basically plateaued at high levels each day.
On average, more than 60,000 Americans were infected every day over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University. That's slightly less than the peak of the summer surge, when 67,030 infections were reported on July 20.
The US shouldn't loosen coronavirus restrictions until daily new cases fall below 10,000, said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
He said it's "inexplicable" that some states are rolling back safety measures such as mask mandates when masks are needed to help fend off B.1.1.7 and other concerning variants.
"I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines -- particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from 55 (thousand) to 70,000 infections per day in the United States," Fauci said.
Despite health leaders' warnings, several state leaders announced they were easing Covid-19 restrictions.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week he was lifting the statewide mask mandate and doing away with any capacity limits on businesses starting this Wednesday.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also said he was lifting all county mask mandates and would allow businesses to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced revisions to public health orders on Tuesday, including dropping a 300-person limit for events at banquet centres. On Thursday, he said that when the state reaches 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks, all health orders will be lifted.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a series of eased restrictions, including the expanded capacity for restaurants, retail, gyms, stadiums and other facilities. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards also loosened restrictions. The majority of businesses -- including restaurants and salons -- are now allowed to operate at 75% capacity, while religious services no longer have capacity limits. On Friday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey also said he was lifting occupancy limits on businesses -- including restaurants, gyms and theatres.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said restaurants, bars, gyms and museums could start operating at 100% capacity. Justice also upped the social gathering limit to 100 people. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order Friday rescinding the face-covering requirements in state government offices, buildings and facilities as well as in restaurants.
And in California, all of the state's amusement parks, including Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios along with sports and concert venues will be allowed to reopen with limited capacity starting April 1, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Friday.
"We feel like now is the appropriate time to begin to reintroduce these activities in some fashion, and in a guarded way, in a slow and steady way," Ghaly said.