Small, home-based gatherings are driving the nation's COVID-19 surge, said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield on Wednesday, and he urged all Americans to follow public health guidelines and wear face masks vigilantly. In the initial coronavirus waves earlier this year, public health officials determined large gatherings were the biggest transmission threat. That has changed as winter approaches. "One of the major drivers of transmission is not the public square. It's actually the home gatherings, where people let down their guard," said Redfield. "You bring in family members, and they don't realize that the major presentation of this virus for individuals, say, under the age of 40 is it's totally asymptomatic—you don't know you're infected." Read on for his full warning, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Death toll may reach 450,000 by February—unless we do this
This type of asymptomatic transmission among families is driving the increase in cases, Redfield said, adding that communities often don't recognize a surge until the virus is contracted by people who are more vulnerable, such as senior citizens. Those people tend to develop symptoms; some need to be hospitalized.
To prevent this, Redfield urged all Americans to wear face masks, saying they effectively reduce transmission of the virus. He cited a Kansas study which found that counties with mask mandates saw a six percent decline in COVID-19 cases, while counties that didn't require face masks had a 100 percent increase.
"It's not a political decision," he said. "This is a public health tool, a very powerful public health tool, very simple, but very powerful."
Redfield noted that deaths have been rising nationwide and that by February, the pandemic's death toll may reach 450,000. But that's "not a fait accompli," he added, if Americans universally adopt public health recommendations like social distancing, avoiding crowds and mask wearing.
All Americans need "to really be vigilant"
"We are not defenseless. The truth is mitigation works," said Redfield. "If we embrace it. The challenge with this virus is, it's not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. It's not even going to work if three-quarters of us do what we need to do. This virus really is going to require all of us to really be vigilant about wearing a mask, and unfortunately not just when we're in the public square."
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.